Keith Hornsby couldn’t find the right word.
LSU’s senior guard racked his brains, searching for the proper term to describe what his teammates lacked in a stunning 70-58 loss at College of Charleston on Monday night. Hornsby, who hasn’t played this season while recovering from a sports hernia surgery, eventually found what he was looking for.
“We just didn’t have the mental approach or maturity to combat what they brought at us,” he said.
What the Cougars brought — a flurry of early punches that put the Tigers (3-3) in a 22-point halftime hole — was too much for the young and shorthanded team to overcome. But coach Johnny Jones is using the early season shocker as a learning experience as LSU prepares to face North Florida at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“A young team like that, we’ve got to grow up and be able to respond,” Jones said. “You’ve got to go through things like that to get where you’re trying to get to.”
After an explosive 3-0 start that brought the Tigers to No. 22 in The Associated Press Top 25, Jones’ squad has lost three straight. LSU suffered a pair of close losses in the Legends Classic in New York last week before the debacle at Charleston.
The Tigers shot 31.1 percent, their lowest shooting clip of the season by far, and committed 19 turnovers Monday night. Freshman Ben Simmons collected 15 points and 18 rebounds but connected on just four of his 15 shots.
Simmons’ supporting cast didn’t fare so well, either. LSU’s next three leading scorers combined for only 15 points, 14 of which belonged to junior guard Tim Quarterman. Freshman guards Brandon Sampson and Antonio Blakeney shot a combined 0-for-12 with one point and one assist between them.
Jones and his players said more side-to-side ball movement and better shot selection should alleviate their shooting woes.
“We’re just not swinging the ball as many times as we have to,” Quarterman said. “We’ve been taking a lot of quick shots as a team and taking a lot of bad shots. ... I think we’re having a lot of learning curves on the team for some of the young players.”
That’s not the only learning curve the Tigers are facing six games into the season.
Both Jones and Hornsby pointed out that the trip to Charleston was the first true road game for LSU’s talented freshman class. Without Hornsby and sophomore forward Craig Victor, who will sit out until the end of this semester due to NCAA transfer rules, Jones suggested the younger players tried to force things.
“It was a valuable lesson last night, yet another one. First true away game,” Hornsby said. “It’s tough to play on the road. They should understand that now, knowing that there will only be crazier situations.”
The Tigers won’t have to deal with another hostile environment Wednesday night. Instead, they’ll have their hands full with the Ospreys’ perimeter attack.
North Florida (6-2) is second nationally with 12 triples per game and ranks sixth in 3-point shooting percentage (44.4). Five Ospreys are 44 percent or better from behind the arc, and senior guard Trent Mackey shoots 59.2 percent on 3-pointers.
“In terms of their 3-point shooting ability, we’re going to have to be at our best in terms of defending better than we have all year,” Jones said.
After qualifying for the NCAA tournament last year, North Florida has already beaten Illinois on the road and was competitive at No. 24 Louisville and Saint Louis, which are a combined 9-1 this season.
A tall task awaits the Tigers as they attempt to rebound from the loss at Charleston, which Simmons called “an eye-opener.” Though LSU is mired in some growing pains, Hornsby found a silver lining in the team’s early-season struggles.
“I’d 100 percent rather this happen right now than to come during the first few games in the (Southeastern Conference),” Hornsby said. “It already happened, so now how do we respond? That’s the big question mark right now.”
Hornsby has it all planned out.
The senior guard said he plans to return to full practice after LSU takes on North Florida and is eyeing the Tigers’ trip to Houston on Dec. 13 as his first game back since undergoing sports hernia surgery before the season.
He said he has been working with assistant head coach David Patrick, strength coach Rick Lefebvre and trainer Shawn Eddy. Hornsby’s able to run sprints but can’t practice defensive slides without aggravating the injury, he said.
Hornsby said he received a platelet-rich plasma shot Tuesday, which will accelerate his healing process.
“It’ll probably take me a second to really get the edge back that I had last year, especially playing 36 minutes a game,” said Hornsby, who acknowledged he has been dealing with regular soreness. “But we’ll see. I’m positive.”