The LSU men’s basketball team entered the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Saturday night having locked down Houston and Rutgers in back-to-back road wins.
The Tigers brought their defense home.
Facing a Boise State team that had shot 49.8 percent from the field in its first nine games and was averaging 84.9 points per outing, LSU shook off the absence of two key players and gave the announced crowd of 7,398 at the PMAC a taste of its defensive improvements in a 64-45 victory.
Leading scorer Andre Stringer missed the game after experiencing a fainting spell before practice during the week. John Isaac would have been a candidate to fill in, but the backup guard tweaked his left knee during pregame warmups.
Nonetheless, the Tigers held coach Trent Johnson’s alma mater to 29.8 percent shooting.
“We’ve really been working hard and were able to get those two road wins,” said center Justin Hamilton, who led all scorers with 14 points. “We wanted to come back and show our fans what we’ve been working on and get a win for them.”
A theme has developed for LSU (6-3) as the Tigers, who suffered disheartening setbacks to Coastal Carolina and South Alabama in the season’s first month, pushed their winning streak to three games and won for the fifth time in six outings.
In all five wins during the current hot streak, LSU has kept its opponent below 60 points.
Boise (8-2) never got into a rhythm Saturday, making only seven of 25 shots from 3-point range after going 91-for-214 (42.5 percent) from beyond the arc in its first nine games. No one was more bothered than Australian freshman Anthony Drmic, who entered with a team-best 15.6-point scoring average but went 0-for-7 from the field and 0-for-5 on 3-pointers in leaving town without scoring a single point.
Eddie Ludwig, who got his eighth career start with Stringer out, spend most of the night guarding Drmic. Ludwig scored only two points, but his nine rebounds were a game high.
“I forgot how tiring it was playing that long,” said Ludwig, who went 33 minutes Saturday after averaging just 8.1 through the first eight games.
The absence of Stringer and Isaac had a trickle-down effect that saw freshman point guard Anthony Hickey log a team-high 37 minutes and forced Chris Bass (15 minutes) and Jalen Courtney (10 minutes) into their most significant action in a reserve role.
Hamilton, who scored the game’s first four points, led a scoring attack that had four Tigers in double figures. Hickey finished with 11 points to go with five assists, providing two of the game’s highlights on alley-oop passes that resulted in LSU dunks.
LSU shot 50 percent from the field, reaching 60 points for the first time during the three-game winning streak.
“It was nice to shoot the ball well,” Johnson said. “But make no mistake, we won this game with our defense.”
It was a far better outcome for the Tigers than the last time they played before the home crowd.
Up by 11 points against South Alabama on Nov. 23 with 7:38 to go, LSU allowed the Jaguars to force overtime on a buzzer-beating jump shot and then finish a 79-75 upset of the Tigers in the extra period.
Sure enough, LSU led Boise by 11 with 7:29 to go.
The Broncos pulled within eight on Kenny Buckner’s old-fashioned 3-pointer with 6:10 remaining, but the Tigers allowed only five more points the rest of the way.
“We knew coming in that these guys were really good 3-point shooters. We knew no lead was safe,” Hamilton said. “We knew we had to keep defending. We knew if we let them get in a groove, they could start hitting and it would be tight again.”