Following its first three losses of the season, the LSU men’s basketball team was able to get its act together quickly and regroup in time to avoid another setback.
Two of those bounceback wins were against Weber State and McNeese State — teams that didn’t come close to presenting the challenge LSU will face Tuesday night, when it plays for the first time since blowing an 11-point, second-half lead in a 67-64 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday.
The only consolation is that Florida, which LSU will meet at 6 p.m. in the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, lost five of its top eight scorers from the team that last season went 18-0 in the Southeastern Conference, won the league’s postseason tournament and reached the Final Four before finishing 36-3.
While this year’s Gators team is obviously different and already has been saddled with four more losses than last season, LSU (13-4, 2-2) will have to play better than it did in the second half in three of its first four league games to survive at Florida (10-7, 3-1).
The biggest part of that may depend on how LSU responds to the Texas A&M loss. Coming off an inspiring road win at Ole Miss three nights earlier, the Tigers built a 13-point lead early in the second half and held an 11-point cushion with 9:49 to play before letting it slip away.
“You have to really bounce back,” coach Johnny Jones said of how his team reacted when it returned to practice Sunday. “We talked about it, and we realize what transpired. We have to break that rearview mirror quickly and start looking ahead, looking forward.
“In sports, you’re going to have some setbacks; it’s how you deal with those setbacks. … These guys have done a pretty good job dealing with the few setbacks we have had this year.”
Guard Keith Hornsby, one of several players who could only shake his head at Saturday’s late collapse, said practice Sunday and Monday would be critical.
“We’ve just to keep our heads up. … What we don’t want to do is come out next time moping because of this loss,” he said Saturday. “If you mope about it, that really won’t put us in good hands. But we’ve been good (after a loss) this year, and I think we’ll be all right.”
LSU had problems putting away Missouri, Georgia and Texas A&M — even though it managed to outlast the Bulldogs in double overtime — but Florida presents a different problem. The Tigers have dropped six in a row to the Gators. Three of those losses were in Gainesville, where LSU hasn’t won since 2008.
But Jones is confident his team, which was 2-7 on the road in the league last season, can get the job done after securing wins earlier at West Virginia, UAB and Ole Miss.
“We can point to what we’re capable of doing, the success that we’ve had and the mistakes we possibly made that led to our shortcomings,” he said, noting they’ll have to compete at a certain level to beat Florida.
It didn’t matter to Jones that Florida had its 24-game SEC winning streak snapped with a 73-61 loss at Georgia on Saturday.
“Talk about a team that’s a prime example,” he said. “They’ve won national championships, went to the Final Four last season, haven’t lost at home (in the SEC) in more than 1,000 days or so. It’s very challenging to contend with a team of that caliber.”
If the Tigers handle the challenge early, especially against a team like Florida, they’ll have to find a way to maintain their intensity.
“The thing for us is we get excited that we have the ability to get up, in terms of the score, and compete at a certain level,” Jones said. “To get up 12, 13, 14 points, it says something now. It’s just a matter of being able to manage it when you get to that point.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.