HOUSTON — As he tried Sunday evening to come to terms with the LSU men’s basketball team’s fourth setback in five games, Keith Hornsby hit the nail on the head.
Much like he was earlier, in a 105-98 overtime loss to Houston in his season debut, Hornsby was dead-on with his assessment of LSU’s early season predicament.
“We have to have more urgency,” said a concerned Hornsby, one of only two seniors on the roster.
Yes, more urgency is needed.
But so are rebounding and defense, not necessarily in that order, for a team that’s slogging through the nonconference part of its schedule and is just 18 days away from the start of an 18-game Southeastern Conference grind.
Throw in a matchup with undefeated and third-ranked Oklahoma in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge, which will come midway through the league slate, and it’s easy to see why a sense of urgency is needed.
Here are two more reasons: Two of the Tigers’ next four games are against teams that have an RPI of 60 or better as of Monday: No. 17 Oral Roberts and No. 53 Wake Forest.
In other words, LSU (4-4) is already painting itself into a corner as far as its NCAA tournament hopes are concerned, mainly because of defensive issues and a rebounding deficiency on both ends of the floor.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, both showed up again Sunday.
LSU, which allowed just one opponent to score 100 points in Johnny Jones’ first three seasons, made it two games in a row when the Cougars poured in 60 points in the last 25 minutes of the game.
North Florida put 108 on the scoreboard in an 11-point loss to LSU on Dec. 2.
Houston, which scored 50 points in the paint, had a decisive 46-33 edge on the glass and scored 20 second-chance points on 17 offensive rebounds.
On the other hand, the Tigers scored 217 points in the two games but managed only a split because they gave up 213 to North Florida and Houston.
“We just have to be better defensively,” Jones said. “We did everything we wanted to offensively. In two games, we scored 119 and tonight 98 points — that’s more than enough on the offensive end of the floor.”
Hornsby and fellow guard Tim Quarterman certainly did their part.
Playing for the first time since having sports hernia surgery on Nov. 3, Hornsby knocked down 10-of-17 field-goal attempts, going 6-of-10 from 3-point range, for a career-high 32 points.
Quarterman made eight of 14 shots from the field en route to matching his career-high of 27 points. He also had 10 rebounds and six assists. Ben Simmons had 13 points, and Aaron Epps checked in with 12.
Hornsby, however, was disappointed with the Tigers’ defensive effort, along with the fact that he had only one rebound in 37 minutes of playing time.
“The past few practices, we’ve been going really hard on defense,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t play very well on the defensive end. The only thing we can do is try to get after it.”
“It (defense) starts with practice,” Quarterman agreed. “We have to go at each other in practice and not allow easy baskets there, because that’s what’s hurting us in games.”
After North Florida shot 51.3 percent from the field, Houston hit 51.4 percent of its shots.
LSU was also outrebounded for the sixth time in eight games and is allowing 43.2 per game while collecting just 39.6.
Simmons, who has done his part with 14.8 rebounds a game, could be getting some much-needed help when 6-foot-9 forward Craig Victor becomes eligible — perhaps as early as Wednesday night against Gardner-Webb.
“He’ll certainly be an inside presence that we don’t have right now, and he will be a nice complement to Ben,” Jones said. “Craig is one of those guys who has a nose for the ball and will look forward to initiating opportunities to go and get rebounds.”
But Jones knows it won’t matter if they don’t play defense.
“We have to do a much better job establishing ourselves on the defensive end. … We have to guard and contain the basketball,” he said. “We have to do a much better job rebounding. If we win the battle on the boards tonight, we win the game.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.