A nine-day break from games for concentrated study period and final exams couldn’t have come at a better time for the LSU men’s basketball team.

Tigers coach Johnny Jones said his team went into finals in a good frame of mind after huge wins over UMass (82-60) and West Virginia (74-73) and will be rested and relaxed when they meet Sam Houston State at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

The one-point victory on Dec. 4 at then-No. 16 West Virginia, which featured a comeback from a 14-point second-half deficit and an exhilarating finish, was especially big for his team, Jones said.

“It couldn’t have happened at a better time because we have had some guys banged up with little injuries,” he said, “but to have a victory like that on the road (was big).

“The way we were able to win and have this time off for some guys to heal, and to work academically to get themselves prepared for the next semester before this Christmas break was important.”

Piling up minutes

Jones said he’ll aim in the next five nonconference games to get a handle on the minutes played by his starters and increase time for those coming off the bench.

Through Tuesday, LSU had four of the top five players in minutes played per game, according to Southeastern Conference stats.

Jarell Martin leads the league with 35.0 minutes a game, while Keith Hornsby is second (34.9). Jordan Mickey is fourth (34.0) and Josh Gray fifth (33.5). Sixth man Tim Quarterman is averaging 30.9 minutes.

“We’d like for those guys to be playing anywhere from maybe 28 to 30,” said Jones, who hopes to balance things out with reserves Brian Bridgewater, Jalyn Patterson and Aaron Epps. “It’s going to help us because in the last five or six minutes of the game, if you’re well-rested and have a lot left in the tank, that’s where the difference will be made.”

RPI is impressive

While it’s awfully early to be thinking about the Big Dance in March, it’s never too soon to take a quick peek at the ratings percentage index (RPI) that’s updated almost daily by the NCAA.

LSU was 85th after going 1-2 in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, but since then have been on the rise with their big wins over UMass at home and at West Virginia.

On Thursday, the Tigers were 17th even though they had risen to 15th earlier in the week.

Reaching No. 250

It kind of got lost in the Tigers’ huge comeback from a 14-point deficit in their most recent game at West Virginia, but the victory was Jones’ 250th as a head coach.

Now in his 15th season as a head coach, Jones is 250-190 overall for a .568 winning percentage. In his third season at his alma mater, the 53-year-old Jones is 45-28 with the Tigers.

Tickets, tickets

Single-game tickets for eight of LSU’s nine conference games are now on sale at the LSU Athletics Ticket Office and at www.LSUtix.net.

The games are against Georgia (Jan. 10, 8 p.m.), Texas A&M (Jan. 17, 11 a.m.), South Carolina (Jan. 28, 6 p.m.), Auburn (Feb. 5, 6 p.m.), Alabama (Feb. 7, 5 p.m.), Florida (Feb. 21, noon), Ole Miss (Feb. 28, 1 p.m.) and Tennessee (March 4, 6 p.m.).

Tickets start at $7 for adults and $5 for youths aged 3 to 12.

Tickets for the Feb. 10 matchup with Kentucky go on sale on Jan. 12.

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.