After producing one of his better games during his short time at LSU in Saturday night’s game with McNeese State, Tigers point guard Josh Gray couldn’t wait for Tuesday night’s contest against UMass.
Specifically, Gray couldn’t wait to match up with UMass’ fast-paced offense, which put 92 points on the scoreboard in a win over LSU in the season opener a year ago.
“They play a fast-paced game, and that’s my type of game,” a smiling Gray said Tuesday night. “I like to be aggressive and attack. They’re aggressive, and they matched what I like to do, and I capitalized on it.”
That style suited him just fine as he pushed the ball up and down the court with his speed and ball-handling ability in LSU’s 82-60 blowout of UMass in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
With Gray scoring 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor, LSU put together its best 20 minutes of basketball this season in the first half and took a 44-32 lead to the locker room.
After shooting 65.5 percent from the field in an 11-point victory over McNeese State on Saturday night, LSU (5-2) picked up where it left off and connected on 19 of 36 first-half shots for 52.8 percent with Gray leading the way.
“I was just being aggressive and attacking,” said Gray, who had a career-high 25 points in an LSU uniform in making 11 of 15 shots from the field. “Coach said to catch the ball and attack until somebody stops you. That’s what I did.”
Indeed, UMass (5-3) had no answer on defense.
The 25 points that Gray had easily surpassed the 18 he had in his debut with the Tigers in a win over Gardner-Webb on Nov. 14. He connected on three of four shots from beyond the 3-point arc and had five assists, four rebounds and three steals in a complete performance.
“Josh is really good, and he has really great ball skills,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “We had some early turnovers, but I thought that when he settled in and was able to get by his man off the ball screens he got into the gaps of their defense.”
UMass tied the game at 24-24 with 8:21 to play in the first half, but LSU went on a tear and outscored the visitors 20-8 the rest of the way to carry a double-digit lead to the locker room for the first time this season.
Late in the first half, Gray scored on a fast break and then hit a 3-point shot with 45 seconds to play to give his team a 44-30 lead when UMass tried to get back into it.
Using Gray’s hot hand, LSU shot 53.8 percent (35-of-65) from the floor after hitting 65.5 percent from the field in the second half of the McNeese State game.
After UMass cut LSU’s lead to eight points twice early in the second half, Gray and the Tigers kept up the pressure and got it back in double digits, which they maintained for the final 15 minutes.
LSU forward Jordan Mickey bounced back from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the McNeese game with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while guard Tim Quarterman added 15 points, and forward Jarell Martin had 12.
“Josh is able to get to the basket whenever he wanted to,” Mickey said. “He makes good plays at the basket, and he’s a smart player. He makes great passes and finishes shots at the rim.”
Maybe, but Gray put the exclamation point on the big win from the outside when he buried a 3-pointer with 1:25 to play to make it 82-60 before Jones took him out after a job well done.
“I felt like I was in junior college again,” Gray, who averaged more than 34 points a game last season at Odessa (Texas) College, said of the long shot. “I’m glad he (Jones) took me out because there’s no telling what would have happened on the next play.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.