NEW YORK — After buzzing through their first three opponents, the No. 22 LSU men’s basketball team came to the bright lights of this big city with hopes of building an early-season résumé for a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
Much like they did last November, the Tigers didn’t put their best foot forward when they went against higher-caliber competition for the first time.
Last November, LSU dropped two of three games in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. On Monday and Tuesday, the Tigers took back-to-back losses in the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center.
That they were inches away from taking both games, when potential game-winning 3-pointers against Marquette and N.C. State were on line but bounced off the rim, was little consolation to the Tigers when they headed home late Tuesday night.
No, it won’t help them when résumés are being put together and NCAA tournament berths are handed out four months from now. At the same time, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world in the eyes of coach Johnny Jones.
“We certainly think that coming to a tournament like this helps if you’re successful in beating two quality teams,” he said. “We thought it was a great opportunity for us here if you’re able to be successful. It says a lot for you. But I’m glad this tournament is in the beginning of the season, and it certainly is a marker for us as we continue to work on getting better.”
Based on its play over a 24-hour period, LSU (3-2) certainly has room for improvement in a number of areas.
It starts with the Tigers being outrebounded in four of their first five games.
That was especially evident in their two Legends Classic games: Marquette held a 46-40 edge on the backboards, while N.C. State easily won that stat Tuesday 54-41.
Then there is field-goal shooting. LSU came to New York hitting 49.2 percent from the floor; the Tigers shot 36.4 percent against Marquette and improved just slightly to 37.0 against N.C. State.
Finally, much to Jones’ chagrin, there were more than a few defensive breakdowns in the past two games to cause some concern even though N.C. State was held to 39.7 percent shooting from the floor.
In this case, one problem is exacerbated by another.
“We’ve been good on the defensive end of the floor, but we can get better,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, when we defend like that, we’ve got to make sure we clean it up with rebounding. We did not rebound the ball well tonight.”
Freshman Ben Simmons accounted for 34 of LSU’s 81 rebounds, getting 14 on Tuesday after pulling down a career-high 20 against Marquette.
Jones wasn’t nearly as concerned with Simmons running the floor and trying to get his teammates involved, which Simmons showed when he had a career-low four points to go with 10 assists against N.C. State.
That’s why Jones has to try to get his team’s shooting touch back.
Brandon Sampson was 7-of-12 from the field, and Tim Quarterman, who was 7-of-20, combined to make 7 of their 16 shots from beyond the 3-point arc. But Simmons was only 1-of-6, and Antonio Blakeney was 4-of-17.
“Ben creates a lot of shots for us being off the ball,” Quarterman said. “He’s a great passer, and he attacks the lanes when he has it. We’ve just got to be in position to make shots when he gives us the ball.”
That’s what it will take for the Tigers to get back on track, Jones said.
“We’re generally a 40 to 45 percent shooting team because of the looks we get and what we do defensively — turning people over and getting easy scoring opportunities and layups,” he said. “We didn’t do that tonight; we certainly didn’t shoot the ball well enough in this tournament to win.
“When we get that solid balance, that’s when we’re going to become a really good team. We know we have a lot of things to work on, but I’m excited about the guys we have and we’re going to get to work on those things.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.