As the bus carrying the LSU men’s basketball team traveled south from Conway, S.C., to Charleston last Tuesday night, the Tigers could be forgiven if they had a hard time getting an 88-82 loss against Coastal Carolina hours earlier out of their minds.
There was much to ponder.
How did LSU blow two nine-point leads after controlling the Chanticleers early? How did they manage to get whipped 53-34 in rebounding, an area of the game they’d worked so hard in practice to win?
For his part, freshman point guard Anthony Hickey looked only straight ahead.
His head bobbing to the sounds of the rap music on his iPod, Hickey said all he could think about was the Northwestern team LSU would face two days later to open the annual Charleston Classic. He said he’d already found a home for the Coastal game somewhere in the rearview mirror.
“I’d forgotten about it when we left,” Hickey said. “Just had to worry about the next one.”
The road from Conway, where Hickey managed only five points on 2-of-8 shooting and committed three turnovers, to Charleston may turn out to be a defining moment in the 5-foot-11, 182-pounder’s young career.
In three games at the Charleston Classic, Hickey averaged 16 points, four assists and two steals, helping LSU finish the eight-team event 2-1 and earning himself a spot on the five-player all-tournament team.
He will look to keep it going Wednesday when the Tigers return home to face South Alabama. Kentucky’s reigning Mr. Basketball leads LSU in scoring with a 13.4 average
“He didn’t play well vs. Coastal Carolina,” coach Trent Johnson said. “But he was real consistent in his approach to the game and in not getting down on himself the following three games.”
That kind of steady play is precisely what coaches look for in their starting point guard. But they usually must wait a couple of years to see it.
Hickey became the first true freshman to start at point guard for LSU in a season opener since Torris Bright, who in 2000 helped the Tigers to a spot in the Sweet 16 — a year after they managed only four conference wins.
It’s far too early to tell if this LSU team can author a similar turnaround, but you have to be impressed with how Hickey and the other newcomers have played.
Justin Hamilton ranks second on the team behind Hickey in scoring with 11.2 points per game. Johnny O’Bryant III flashed his considerable talents in a 21-point, eight-rebound effort against Northwestern. John Isaac continues to give LSU a defensive presence.
“We’re just trying to get prepared for later in the season,” Hickey said. “We know it starts right here.”
Whether they contend for a postseason bid could depend on how the Tigers deal with the growing pains any young team must face.
How they build on strong performances. How they rebound from poor ones.
Hickey, already, has shown he can.