No one has to tell LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones that playing a game just three days before Christmas can be tricky.
Final exams are over, and players are looking forward to going home for a few days to relax and spend some time with their families.
But there’s still one piece of business for the LSU basketball team to take care of: an 8 p.m. Monday matchup with the College of Charleston in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
LSU (8-2) has won five games in a row after Thursday night’s 79-70 victory at UAB, but Jones knows that doesn’t guarantee his team anything against College of Charleston (5-6) — or anyone else for that matter.
So Jones had a message for his team when it returned to practice Saturday afternoon.
“This game is about being focused, and that’s another sign of growth as a team,” he said. “We talk about the season as being a journey, and this is the next step for us.”
After Monday’s game, Jones will turn his players loose for three days before they come back Friday afternoon to prepare for their next game, Dec. 29 against Southern Miss.
“It’s an opportunity for them to go home and spend some time with their families,” Jones said. “After this game, there’s going to be a long stretch of the season before they get another break like that. So we want them to go home, be around their families and enjoy the break.”
Then again, he said they can’t begin relaxing too soon — especially against College of Charleston.
“The worst thing you can do is check out early,” Jones said. “It’s the last game before the break, and you can’t let that opportunity slip by. Sometimes you can lose focus when you’re thinking about getting home. If you think about that, it can become a distraction for you.”
That would be a mistake against College of Charleston, which lost to Connecticut by eight points and Texas A&M by nine. The Cougars also hung with West Virginia (which LSU beat 74-73) for a half before falling.
The Cougars’ second-leading scorer is 6-foot-6 sophomore guard Canyon Barry, the son of former NBA and ABA star Rick Barry, a Naismith Hall of Famer. Canyon, who averages 12.1 points and 5.2 rebounds, had 20 points in a 80-68 loss to Davidson on Saturday.
“They’re a competitive team,” Jones said. “They’ve got some really good shooters, especially with their perimeter guys, so we have to make sure we defend the 3-point shot well. They can get it going if you let them. Again, it’s about being able to focus.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.