CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — LSU point guard Anthony Hickey learned plenty at the Charleston Classic, first and foremost how to keep focused and in control when things don’t go your way on the court.
Hickey used that lesson against Georgia Tech, scoring 20 points to lead the Tigers to a 59-50 victory on Sunday and fifth place in the eight-team tournament.
LSU (3-2) had an awful start to its week in South Carolina, losing at Coastal Carolina in Conway about two hours up the road this past Tuesday, then falling into the losers’ bracket with an 88-82 loss to Northwestern.
Hickey, a 5-foot-11 freshman, struggled in both those losses. He was 2 of 8 from the field against Coastal Carolina, then was held scoreless in the second half against Northwestern. He recovered in a big way in his final two games at TD Arena with 17 points to beat Western Kentucky and a career-best performance Sunday against the Yellow Jackets (3-2).
“We learned how to play when stuff goes bad,” Hickey said. “When stuff goes bad everybody holds their heads down. Coach (Trent) Johnson says hold your heads up. We’re together. We’ve got to keep playing together.”
That worked against Georgia Tech of the Atlantic Coast Conference, a team very similar in size and talent to LSU of the Southeastern Conference. Each trip down the floor was met with in-your-face defense and each free ball brought several bodies crashing against each other. LSU didn’t get clear until the very end.
“Yeah, it was tough out there,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said.
The Yellow Jackets led 43-41 on Kammeon Holsey’s jumper, their first lead of the second half. That’s when Hickey struck for a go-ahead 3-pointer. Ralston Turner and Andre Stringer followed with 3-pointers to go out in front 50-46.
Mfon Udofia’s third and final 3 drew Georgia Tech within 50-49 with 3:15 to go. That turned out as closes as the Yellow Jackets would get.
Justin Hamilton, LSU’s 7-foot junior, had a pair of foul shots and a basket to extend the lead. Turner and Stringer combined for five foul shots down the stretch for the final margin.
LSU shot just 32.8 percent (21 of 64) and still came out ahead. Turner and Hamilton were each 3 of 12 from the field. Senior Storm Warren missed all 11 shots.
Tigers coach Trent Johnson was pleased with his team’s response to the early-week losses and the cold-shooting against Georgia Tech.
Johnson was worried that his younger players like Hickey might hang their heads and spend too much time worried about defeat instead of focusing on the next opponent. “We had not good shots, but great shots in the second half that didn’t go down,” Johnson said. “In the past, we might’ve forgot to defend. But we stuck our nose in there and came up with some loose balls.”
While the offense suffered, LSU’s defense got to the Yellow Jackets, who finished with 23 turnovers. The Tigers had nine steals.
“When the offense is going you’ve got to work on defense,” Hickey said.
Stringer had 11 points while Hamilton finished with eight points and nine rebounds.
Udofia had 14 points to lead Georgia Tech, while Glen Rice Jr. had 11 points, but just four of those in the second half.
Johnson, LSU’s coach, is confident that Hickey and his other players will keep learning the lessons as they prepare for SEC play in January. “For us, we’ve got about 10 guys that are solid,” he said. “We’ve got a solid base.
“I leave this tournament saying what I said the first day of practice,” he continued. “We’ve got a team that can score the ball, but we have to defend. Today was a great example of that.”