The LSU Tigers are alone in first place in the Southeastern Conference.
It’s quite an achievement. But don’t expect them to start throwing beads and doubloons out of the windows of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
For Mardi Gras-like revelry, you’ll have to find another address.
“Nothing to see here,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said facetiously. “Move along. Move along.”
The win that resulted in the Tigers being solo at the summit, Saturday’s 88-77 triumph over Mississippi State, had senior guard Keith Hornsby pining in a way for LSU’s days down in the valley of everyone else’s doubts.
Life at the top affords a grand view but comes with a target on your back.
“I don’t want them to believe in us quite yet,” said Hornsby, who filled up the Maravich Center nets for 25 points to pair with Antonio Blakeney’s career-high 31. “We want to have something to fight for.”
If a fight club is what Hornsby craves, then he and the Tigers should be happy to know not that much has changed.
There’s no time for self-congratulations when all you have do is look at the schedule and see LSU’s next challenge is Wednesday at No. 25 South Carolina followed by a home game next Saturday against No. 8 Texas A&M.
The Gamecocks rubbed out co-first place Texas A&M by hanging on for an impressive 81-78 victory Saturday in College Station. Now South Carolina will try to make it an SEC leader double play.
Such a result would turn the top of the SEC standings into a free-for-all. The Gamecocks, Aggies and Kentucky are all just a game behind LSU at 7-3 with eight wildly unpredictable games to play.
With that in mind, Jones and Hornsby’s attitudes are right on the mark.
“I think we have a very competitive team in an excellent league,” Jones said. “Night in and night out, anyone can be beaten. If we’re playing well, we can have success, but I’m conscious of how we started the season.”
Jones said he wants his team to enjoy the journey. There’s a lot of road still to travel, but it’s worth pulling over to the shoulder to examine the landscape his Tigers have covered so far.
LSU wandered through an uneven pre-SEC schedule, going 7-5 with road losses at Charleston and Houston and at home to Wake Forest. They also lost to No. 1 Oklahoma last Saturday, which took it on the chin this Saturday in an 80-69 loss at a Kansas State team that like Mississippi State was only 2-7 in conference play coming in.
The Bulldogs looked like they might slip one past slumbering LSU as well, riding some torrid outside shooting to a 14-point first-half lead. Then LSU roared back with Hornsby and Blakeney pouring in shots while freshman star Ben Simmons had a typically understated, Ben Simmons-like stat line: 16 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two blocks.
Simmons was the offensive aggressor in LSU’s 80-68 win last time out at Auburn, but a game like this seems to suit him much better. He prefers to be the distributor instead of the instigator, and aside from the spectacular move around the basket here or there, he seemed to enjoy himself immensely watching his passes find teammates who were persistent in making shots. The Tigers shot 52.5 percent for the game — 65.5 in the second half — and totaled 25 assists.
“I was just taking what they gave me,” Simmons said. “(Hornsby and Blakeney) were wide open. When they start hitting shots, it’s hard for anybody to really guard us.”
In the Oklahoma game, members of the student section were hurling ice and insults. The only real invective in this game was confined to the court, where Blakeney and State star freshman guard Malik Newman engaged in a running dialogue that led to a technical on Blakeney and Jones dropping the velvet hammer with some stern words in his ear and a trip to the bench for the game’s final 2½ minutes.
“I was talking to him,” Blakeney said candidly. “I ain’t going to lie.”
Mostly the Tigers let their game do the talking. Much of the talk from this game should focus on Hornsby.
LSU missed Craig Victor’s muscle in the pre-SEC slate as he sat out because of transfer rules, but the Tigers missed Hornsby’s grit and fight just as much. He missed LSU’s first seven games because of sports hernia surgery, a medical issue he said still won’t be totally right until he gets a long rest.
There’s no time for that now. The Tigers have fought hard for their place at the head of the table, but they’ll have to fight just as hard to stay there.
“First place feels good,” he said. “Now we have pressure on us, but it’s a good pressure. We have to embrace it.”
Turns out, there’s a lot to see here after all.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.