In its appearance in the Legends Classic in New York last week, the LSU men’s basketball team did some things just poorly enough to return home with two disappointing losses.
The most glaring deficiencies for the Tigers, however, were on-ball defense and 3-point shooting, which contributed to their first two setbacks of the season against Marquette and North Carolina State.
Both were addressed Thursday when LSU returned to practice, which coach Johnny Jones hopes will make a difference this week. The Tigers (3-2) play at the College of Charleston on Monday and hosts North Florida two nights later before an 11-day break for finals.
As he did after each game in New York, Jones talked Friday about his team’s defensive breakdowns — especially against the guards.
Marquette guards Duane Wilson and Jajuan Johnson scored 16 points each in an 81-80 victory in the semifinals. The next night, North Carolina State guard Cat Barber had 20 in an 83-72 win in the consolation game.
“In the Marquette game, their guards did a good job of taking advantage of some driving opportunities,” Jones said. “They broke us down defensively, got to the rim and scored some big buckets against us late.
“The same thing happened against N.C. State. Cat Barber only scored four baskets, but he went to the free-throw line 12 times. That was due to his ability to penetrate and get inside of the defense and make plays.”
LSU’s 3-point shooting was another concern for Jones.
After averaging 18.3 attempts from beyond the arc in the first three games, which was on par for the team’s average of 16.9 last season, the Tigers hoisted 60 in New York — 33 against N.C. State — and made just 19.
While he has guards capable of shooting the 3-pointers, Jones wants to see his team drive more and draw some free-throw opportunities after getting to the line just 10 times against N.C. State.
“With our size and strength, the more we get to the free-throw line and the more rebounds you get, the better your chances are of winning,” Jones said. “Shooting 60 3s in two games isn’t going to get you to the line nearly enough. We didn’t put enough pressure on them going to the rim.”
The return of Keith Hornsby from sports hernia surgery in a couple of weeks will likely help the Tigers get to the rim more.
Hornsby was LSU’s top 3-point shooter last season, but his offensive repertoire includes the ability to penetrate and get to the basket for layups and short jumpers.
Hornsby said Friday he’s been back at practice for 1½ weeks but can’t yet do the lateral movements or quick cutting required to play the game.
“The progress has been good,” he said. “We’ve been cautious, yet we have pushed the limits a little bit. Every time I’ve felt a little pull or something, we’ve had to pull back on the reins.
“We’re being safe right now and not trying to aggravate it. Really, it’s still healing and will be for the next six months. So I have to be smart about it and really listen to my body.”
Jones hopes to have Hornsby back in the second week of December if his rehab continues to go well, which could mean the Dec. 13 game in Houston.
Patterson or Sampson?
While Hornsby is sidelined, Jones may go back and forth between 6-foot-1 sophomore Jalyn Patterson and 6-5 freshman Brandon Sampson as his third starter at guard depending on the matchup with each opponent.
After Sampson started the first four games, Jones called on Patterson to start against N.C. State because his size and quickness presented a better defensive matchup for Barber.
Barber made just 4-of-12 field-goal attempts, even though he had 20 points after knocking down all 12 of his free throws.
“As a freshman, Jalyn did a great job in a lot of situations where we needed a really good defender on the floor, and he was one of those guys along with Tim Quarterman,” Jones said. “We wanted him to make sure we got off to a good start against Barber, and I thought he did.”
LSU forward Ben Simmons was whistled for his fifth foul with 4:04 left in overtime against N.C. State with the Tigers down 67-65 when he tried to slap the ball away from guard Cody Martin.
With the Tigers’ leading scorer, rebounder and assists man on the bench the rest of the way, State outscored LSU 16-7.
“I hit the ball and it came down,” Simmons said Friday. “I didn’t think it was a foul, but the ref called it. Refs make bad decisions, players make bad decisions. … It happens.”
Like Simmons, Jones wasn’t so sure it was a foul.
“When you swing down and (hit) an arm, the ball is going to come up,” Jones said. “You can go back and look at the tape and see he clearly hit the ball. That’s not to say it was a badly officiated game; it just wasn’t a good call for Ben.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.