LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones didn’t need an extensive scouting report to know that Tuesday night’s matchup with American University wasn’t going to be an ordinary nonconference game.
American runs the Princeton offense, which can mesmerize defenders with pass after pass and often culminates with a backdoor cut for an easy layup or dunk.
Problem is, like the triple-option in football, you don’t see it often enough to spend a lot of time working against it in practice.
But that’s what LSU faced in its final outing before a three-day break for Christmas, which was another concern of Jones’ going into Tuesday night’s game.
Yet, after some anxious moments in the first half, when American got several easy baskets and actually led or was tied with LSU for more than nine minutes of clock time, the Tigers easily put the Eagles away 79-51 for their third win in a row.
“It was kind of crazy early,” LSU guard Keith Hornsby said of an American team that made 11 of its first 13 field-goal attempts for 83.3 percent. “They played well and were good at running their plays and executing them.
“They were making easy layups and threading the needle a few times,” he added. “They had good looks at the basket, and they capitalized on them.”
LSU finally settled in and managed to take a 36-31 halftime lead, then made a key adjustment for the second half to switch on all screens — which effectively took away the backdoor cut.
The difference in the two halves was easy to see.
After shooting 72.2 percent in the first half, which kept LSU from getting its up-tempo offense going because it was taking the ball out of the net instead of running with a rebound, American hit only 25.9 percent (7-of-27) in the second half.
“You have to give American credit for coming in and playing the way they did in the first half,” Jones said. “We knew it would be a different offensive set that we haven’t had to face all year long. They did a great job of executing it.
“I told our guys, you may have thought you were mentally giving the effort that was needed, but you have to make sure you are down there and defending it differently and trying to make sure you take away backdoor cuts.”
Forward Craig Victor, who’s been a huge help to an improving LSU defense since he became eligible on Dec. 16, said it was a unique and difficult test at times for the Tigers early.
But once they made the defensive adjustment at halftime, the key was being disciplined.
“It kind of got boring,” Victor said of American’s patience, “but we had to stay active and do as much as possible to stay focused and locked in on defense.”
“It was a unique test, but I’m kind of glad we had it,” Hornsby said. “It tested our whole team and I was happy we got better defensively in the second half. We just had to buckle down with a different strategy, but all five guys on the floor were on board with it.”
The ramped-up defense turned into several transition baskets for LSU and it took the Tigers less than seven minutes to turn a precarious five-point halftime lead into a 22-point cushion which ballooned to 30 points in the final seconds.
“I commended our guards on the offensive end for buying in to sharing the ball and making sure we were able to punch the ball in the post and take advantage of our size in there,” Jones said.
LSU shot 68.0 percent in the second half and finished the game hitting 61.5 percent, scoring 50 points in the paint area. In addition, the Tigers had 35 points off 22 American turnovers.
“It’s really tough for us to get out and run when we’re taking the ball out of the net (after a made field goal),” Jones said. “Getting stops, creating turnovers and creating scoring opportunities really helped us.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.