When he looked back on LSU’s comeback victory over Houston on Tuesday night, coach Trent Johnson said he had an easy time figuring out how the Tigers ended a series of disappointing losses by mounting a rally of their own.
In battling for rebounds, playing solid defense and protecting the basketball, Johnson saw LSU excel where the Tigers previously failed.
He saw all the things he has preached throughout his career.
“When you start looking at why we’ve gotten beat in the losses that we have, I think it’s a direct correlation between rebounding, being disciplined enough to block out, being disciplined enough not to gamble and keep the guy in front of you at the point of attack, being disciplined enough to rotate and go attack,” Johnson said.
If the Tigers (4-3) keep it up 6 p.m. Saturday when they face Rutgers (4-3) in the Big East-SEC Challenge, Johnson said they have a good shot at winning their second game in a row.
If not, they could be back where they started.
“I’ve been stressing defense and rebounding the ball my entire career, since I’ve been an assistant coach,” Johnson said. “I think there comes a point in time when good teams, good players, really understand that and don’t let what happens on offense dictate how they play on defense. That’s hard to do, but that’s a fact.”
LSU entered the game against Houston having lost three games after building leads of nine points or more. The Tigers found themselves trailing by eight at the half, but this time made their own comeback.
In a game in which neither team could get separation down the stretch, LSU guard Anthony Hickey drove the length of the court in the final seconds and tried a difficult layup with the Tigers down by one.
He missed, but Storm Warren gathered the rebound and was fouled on a putback attempt.
Warren then drained two free throws with 1.2 seconds to go for the 59-58 win.
“It was something we had to do as a team,” Warren said. “We had to collect ourselves.”
While the drama at the end made all the headlines, it was a get-your-hands-dirty, nose-to-the-grindstone kind of effort that got the Tigers back in the fold.
In the second half, LSU held Houston to 39.1 percent shooting, committed only five turnovers, and outrebounded the Cougars 14-1 on the offensive end.
That’s the way Johnson-coached teams win games.
“They got to a big lead early, and we were able to come up with some big offensive rebounds late in the game,” LSU forward Malcolm White said. “I think it was big. I think the bigs came out very aggressive in the second half.”
Having rebounded to get back above the .500 mark, the Tigers hit the road again looking to work on being more consistent.
LSU will face a 4-0 Rutgers team at Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J.
Gilvydas Biruta leads the Scarlet Knights in scoring at 12.1 points per game. Myles Mack scored 20 points in a recent victory over Maryland-Baltimore County.
“We have to concern ourselves with ourselves and make sure we don’t have breakdowns, and that we make progress off of what just happened the last time we turned to defense,” Johnson said. “If we can defend and keep the tempo to our liking and play to our strengths, we have a chance to be successful.”
LSU has an opportunity to help its league get a leg up in a Big East-SEC Challenge that has been evenly matched thus far.
The Tigers are meeting Rutgers for the first time.