LSU basketball team starting to show what preseason excitement was about _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK --LSU forward Craig Victor II battles inside and is fouled by Oral Roberts forward Brandon Conley, left, as center Albert Owens defends on Saturday in the Pete Marvich Assembly Center.

The LSU basketball team is starting to look like the group everyone was expecting and hoping to see this season.

While four setbacks in a five-game stretch might have tempered the preseason excitement a bit, the Tigers seem to be getting things together at just the right time with 1½ weeks to go before the start of Southeastern Conference play.

LSU righted the ship a little with two wins in four days, but the Tigers were expected to beat Gardner-Webb and Oral Roberts on their home floor.

It’s how LSU did it that has coach Johnny Jones and his players believing they could be well over a rough patch that saw them take a hard tumble from the early-season rankings.

The return of guard Keith Hornsby and the addition of forward Craig Victor II have helped, of course, just like Jones thought they would when the Tigers were missing something on defense and in rebounding.

In Saturday’s 100-77 bashing of Oral Roberts, the defense and rebounding were there for the second game in a row — which was encouraging, to be sure, when Victor and forward Ben Simmons dominated down low on both ends of the floor.

But there was another important sign as well, like guard Antonio Blakeney looking like he’s shot his way out of a slump that saw him go cold in going 7-of-40 from the field when the Tigers dropped three of four games.

Because Jones repeatedly noted that Blakeney would snap out of his cold spell, the big news was the improved work on the defensive end and on the glass.

While the competition wasn’t nearly as tough, the Tigers gave up 134 points in the past two games after allowing 213 in the previous two against North Florida and Houston.

They outrebounded ORU by 10 after having a plus-19 on the glass against Gardner-Webb.

A lot of it has to do with the work of Victor and Simmons even though Victor played just 34 minutes in the two games because of foul trouble.

“Both of those guys, they do a great job (offensively),” Jones said. “Both are really good passers, both can really stretch the floor, and they can put the ball on the floor.

“On the defensive end, they can really stay keyed in. They’re long and they’re active and they’re strong. That’s an area we’ve grown in the last week because of the presence.”

Blakeney hit on 8-of-17 field-goal attempts against Gardner-Webb and Oral Roberts, going 6-of-12 from 3-point range.

That Blakeney did it Saturday while trying to focus on his defense against high-scoring guard Obi Emegano, who was held to five field goals and 16 points after coming in with a 23.3 average, was a bonus.

“I’m so happy for him because he was on the toughest defensive assignment,” Jones said. “He had Obi, and that’s where more of his focus was. His offensive game just flowed into that tonight so he wasn’t worried about it.

“He was able to take some good shots, hit some long ones. I think he was 3-for-6 last game (on 3-pointers) and again (Saturday), so that was what we kind of envisioned with him. We know what he’s capable of doing.”

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.