In its past two games, the LSU men’s basketball team has learned it’s better to have two point guards on the floor instead of one.
Or, in this case, one point guard and one point forward.
With a small adjustment a week and a half ago after a tough loss to Wake Forest, LSU’s up-tempo offense has been going with the flow to produce back-to-back wins to open Southeastern Conference play.
LSU (9-5, 2-0) hasn’t started league play with three straight wins since 2006, but the current Tigers can do that when they visit Florida (9-5, 1-1) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
If the modest winning streak is to grow, guard Tim Quarterman and forward Ben Simmons will have to play the way they did when the Tigers won two games in four nights at Vanderbilt (90-82) and against Kentucky (85-67).
LSU leads the league at 84.3 points per game, but something was missing prior to the previous two outings. The offense wasn’t hitting on all cylinders with Quarterman, the Tigers’ primary ball-handler a year ago as well as in his high school years, and the 6-foot-10 Simmons sharing those duties depending on the situation.
Quarterman ran things after made baskets or free throws by the opponent, while Simmons had the freedom to take the ball on rebounds and use his speed and ball-handling to jet up the floor.
“I felt out of sorts for a couple of games just trying to adjust to what was going on and stuff like that,” said Quarterman, who led LSU with 4.0 assists per game last season. “That comes with practice; just going out there and asking Coach (Johnny) Jones where he wants me when Ben brings the ball up. We have it down pat now.”
The result was a byproduct of getting used to playing with an exceptional ball-handler and passer like Simmons, who gets a bigger thrill from handing out assists than scoring. Simmons leads LSU and is fourth in the SEC at 5.2 assists per game.
“That was the adjustment we had to go through as a team, and at the beginning of the year we didn’t have this chemistry like we do now,” Quarterman said. “I didn’t know what to do at times when Ben had the ball in his hands. Our offense has flowed way better the last couple of games. We’ve had a lot of assists, and that’s big for us.”
Quarterman noted that he was so used to being the primary ball-handler that earlier in the season he would turn and look toward the basket to get the ball from the rebounder, only to see no one there after Simmons had already raced upcourt.
Things have changed for the better lately. Quarterman was given the green light by Jones to be the player he was last season, when he became an offensive threat while averaging 11.5 points.
In the win at Vanderbilt last Saturday, he was more active even though he scored just five points and had three assists. Then he broke out against Kentucky with 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. It was the first time in six games that he scored in double digits since tying his career high with 27 in a loss at Houston.
“It’s getting used to it and having an understanding for our offensive flow,” Jones said. “When Tim is bringing it up, it’s having an idea of our spacing, execution and all those things that really need to take place.
“Both those guys have the ability to feed off of each other, and it’s a great weapon to have. It allows us to really get the ball up the floor quicker in a sense. So having two good decision-makers out there has been good.”
Simmons said he can see a difference in the offense in the past two games.
“We changed that up, so we’re flowing a lot more now,” he said. “Everyone knows where they need to be if I’m bringing the ball up or if Tim’s bringing it up. It took a couple games, but we’re improving with that.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.