For much of Saturday night’s game, the LSU basketball team looked like a team coming off a nine-day break from competition for final exams.
After getting off to a quick 9-4 start against Sam Houston State, a team that won 24 games a year ago, LSU looked out of sorts — especially during a 7½-minute stretch in which the visitors rolled to an eight-point lead.
But that’s where the Tigers, behind sophomore forward Jordan Mickey, woke up and turned things around to avoid an upset on their home floor.
Despite missing a couple of days of practice, Mickey seemed immune to the rust. He scored 10 of his game-high 21 points as LSU outscored Sam Houston State 21-10 to finish the first half, taking a precarious three-point lead at the break before posting a 76-67 win in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Mickey scored just five points after halftime to go with 16 in the first half, but he added a game- and career-high 15 rebounds and four blocks while getting more help from his teammates in the second half.
Guard Keith Hornsby poured in 13 of his 16 points in the second half and forward Jarell Martin scored 11 of his 14 points after intermission to help LSU (7-2) hold off Sam Houston State (5-4) for its fourth consecutive victory.
“It felt like we came out real rusty,” said Martin, who added nine rebounds and three blocks. “I know we didn’t come out and play the way we played before the break. But we got into a rhythm and Jordan got us going.
“He came out and played real big and definitely got us going.”
Mickey connected on 7 of 15 his field-goal attempts in the first half and had 16 points and 11 rebounds to record his fifth double-double of the season before going to the locker room.
“I had some easy looks, some good looks at the basket,” Mickey said. “I was just able to capitalize on it. We were able to execute our offense and I was able to get some layups and good shots.”
It wasn’t easy, not even in the second half when LSU used a 16-9 run in the first six-plus minutes to take a 50-40 lead on two Tim Quarterman free throws with 13:50 to play.
But it was Mickey who got his team going. He heated up down the stretch in the first half after Sam Houston State took a 21-13 advantage with 8:38 to play on a 3-point basket by Kaheem Ransom, who had 10 points and was one of four players in double figures for the Bearkats.
Mickey had a double-double after completing a three-point play with 3:52 to play in the half that gave the Tigers a 27-26 lead. It was LSU’s first lead since grabbing a slim 11-10 advantage with 12:29 remaining.
Mickey had an emphatic ending to the first half, starting with his three-point play that put his team in the lead.
He had a slam dunk just 24 seconds later, then had a steal and dunk on the other end to give his team a 34-29 lead with 91 seconds to play before halftime.
The Tigers came out strong in the second half even though point guard Josh Gray, who had four points and three assists, was sidelined three minutes into the half with a right ankle injury. LSU coach Johnny Jones said Gray will be evaluated Monday after the swelling in his ankle goes down.
Despite the efforts of Mickey, Hornsby, Martin and Quarterman, who had 11 points and four assists, Sam Houston State hung around and kept the deficit in single digits for most of the second half -- training by as few as four points with 1:47 to play on a basket by Ransom.
Guard Jabari Peters, who had a team-high 15 points for Sam Houston, knocked down 4-of-7 3-point shots and Paul Baxter, who had a key basket from beyond the arc late, finished with 11. Ransom and Michael Holyfield had 10 each.
Absolutely,” Jones said when asked if his team had to overcome a bit of a hangover from its last win, a 74-73 thriller at West Virginia on Dec. 4. “You have to really credit our guys because they made some tough plays down the stretch and made some timely shots.
“We were never able to stretch the lead and get away,” he said, noting that Sam Houston out-rebounded his team 50-42 and had 27 second-chance points on 23 offensive rebounds. “We didn’t execute as well after we got an 11- or 12-point lead there at the end of the game, but Sam Houston had a lot to do with that.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.