With six scholarship guards on his roster going into the season, LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones faced a problem in trying to split up the minutes they stood to get.
As Jones found out in the first two games, especially Monday night, it’s a nice problem to have — sort of like having too many quality running backs or starting pitchers.
It wasn’t a problem in the opener with McNeese State because Keith Hornsby was sidelined after having minor surgery earlier in the month and Josh Gray was suspended for playing in an unsanctioned game.
But when Gray came out Monday night and gave Jones 22 strong minutes in a 91-69 win over Kennesaw State, he made a statement that he wants to be in the mix with point guards Tim Quarterman and Jalyn Patterson and shooting guards Antonio Blakeney, Brandon Sampson and Hornsby.
It wasn’t just the minutes, it was what Gray did with them that stood out.
The senior from Lake Charles, who lost his starting job last season when he was plagued by an ankle injury and inconsistent play, was 6-of-11 from the field and had 16 points to go with six rebounds and six assists.
“Josh played within himself tonight and was able to create opportunities for his teammates,” Jones said. “I thought he had a really good, balanced game.”
Gray did that after missing the team’s Australian exhibition tour and the opener with McNeese State even though he did see some action in an exhibition game with Southwest Baptist.
“I just want to win, so I’m going to do anything out there to win,” Gray said Monday night. “I just try and have that mindset.”
That certainly served him well against Kennesaw State when he played under control for much of his 22 minutes on the floor. He hit shots from the outside, going 2-of-3 from 3-point range, penetrated the lane and found open teammates.
Gray, who had only two turnovers, was a factor on the defensive end with three steals.
“When the opportunity presented itself, he was able to get to the rim,” Jones said. “He had some nice layups for us because of his quickness in getting to the basket. He knocked down some 3-pointers tonight; he had an all-around game in running this team.
“That’s something we look forward to, if we can get that type of productivity out of our point guards — whether it’s Tim or Josh. That’s huge for us.”
While the offensive production was nice, Blakeney praised Gray for his defense.
Gray helped hold Kennesaw State guard Yonel Brown, who poured in 34 points against Alabama three nights earlier, to just 11 in 34 minutes while struggling with foul trouble.
“He brings the defense,” Blakeney said of Gray. “He harps on defense all the time in practice. He brings a lot of intensity and doesn’t get tired. He’s out there everywhere.”’
As far as Gray is concerned, it’s just a start.
“It’s good to have a performance like this, but I’m going to come out every night and play as hard as I can for my team,” he said. “Some nights I may not score and some nights I might go for a career-high. I just want to play hard and win. … I don’t really care about the stats on paper.”
Simmons on Wooden list
Even though he’s just two games into his first collegiate season, LSU freshman forward Ben Simmons is on the list of the John R. Wooden Award Top 50 announced Tuesday.
After opening his college career with 11 points and 13 rebounds against McNeese State, the 6-foor-10 Simmons had 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks in Monday night’s 22-point blowout of Kennesaw State.
Advocate sportswriter Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.