IRVINE, Calif.— LSU’s first road trip of the season continued Tuesday night with a 66-60 victory over UC Irvine, another step in a journey of discovery for first-year coach Johnny Jones and his team.
Andre Stringer led all scorers with 19 points and Shavon Coleman had 13 points and 11 rebounds to help the Tigers fight off a scrappy Irvine team in front of preholiday crowd of 1,532 at the Bren Center.
Guard Anthony Hickey added 10 points in 21 minutes off the bench for LSU.
The visit to this Orange County suburb minutes from the Southern California coast gave the Tigers a chance to experience life on the road. They squeezed in a little practice time, as well as a visit to Downtown Disney, a restaurant/entertainment center adjacent to the entrance to Disneyland Resort.
“It’s been real good,” first-year LSU coach Johnny Jones said of his team’s trip. “It’s given us an opportunity to bond and become a better basketball team.”
Just how much better remains to be seen. The Tigers (7-1) return home for a couple days and prepare for another stop along the road — a Saturday afternoon game at Marquette.
LSU got a bit of a scare early in the second half when Stringer leaped over the scorer’s table in pursuit of a loose ball and slammed into the bottom step of the bleachers near midcourt with 18:34 to play. After writhing in pain, he was helped to his feet, and walked on his own back to the LSU bench.
Stringer returned to the court less than four minutes later with no noticeable limp, but with two fingers on his left hand taped together. Moments later, he drove the baseline for a basket that gave the Tigers a 38-31 lead, and helped ignite a 9-2 LSU run.
The Tigers were outrebounded, 44-27, in an 89-70 loss at Boise State on Friday, giving Jones cause for concern against an Irvine that has been a fairly active rebounding team.
“We’ve got to do a better job rebounding the basketball against a team ranked fifth in the country in rebounding,” Jones said hours before Tuesday night’s game. “And we’ve got to take better care of the basketball. If we do those things, we’ll have a chance at a better outcome.”
Part of the responsibility of taking care of the ball fell to freshman Corban Collins, who earned a spot in the starting lineup for the Tigers after coming off the bench to score 19 points in the loss to Boise State. It was Collins’ third start of the season.
“Collins has been a good quarterback for us,” Jones said. “For his first time out on the road (at Boise), I think he responded extremely well. He’s a good floor leader and a strong defender. And he gets the team into our offense.”
Collins and sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant III helped the Tigers get out to a 10-3 lead in the opening minutes. O’Bryant’s six first-half points came early, despite Irvine’s attempts to double-team him in the post.
Irvine scrambled to tie it at 17-17 just past the midway point of the first half before Hickey, working his way back into Jones’ good graces after some disciplinary issues earlier in the season, came off the bench to spark a 13-2 LSU run.
Hickey had a 3-pointer, a steal and driving layup and another driving score off of a UCI turnover to lead the charge. A 3-pointer by Andre Stringer at the 5:46 mark of the first half extended LSU’s lead to 30-19, and the Tigers left the floor at halftime with a 34-26 lead.
This was the back end of a home-and-home series between these teams. LSU beat Irvine, 66-59, last Dec. 15 at the Maravich Center. That Irvine team was among the youngest in the country, with no seniors on the roster.
But the 2012-13 edition has all five starters returning, and 10 players who saw at least limited playing time last season. Bigger things are expected for Irvine and coach Russell Turner, a former Golden State Warrior, Stanford and Wake Forest assistant who went 30-45 in his first two seasons at Irvine.
But the Anteaters took a 5-6 record into Tuesday’s game. Their early season résumé includes a one-point overtime loss at UCLA on Nov. 13, and three losses by four points or less.