It was halftime of Saturday’s game with Mississippi State before LSU guard Antonio Blakeney realized he was in a zone.
While that seems impossible, it was understandable considering he was red hot in the first 20 minutes of the Tigers’ 88-77 win in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
By the time LSU returned to its locker room, Blakeney and fellow guard Keith Hornsby had poured in 15 points apiece to douse a hot start by Mississippi State that produced a 22-8 differential barely eight minutes in.
It was just the start for both — but especially for Blakeney. He added 16 more in the second half to finish with a game-high 31 points, and Hornsby wound up with 25.
While facing an early 14-point deficit is never a comforting thought, it can be like an adrenaline rush for shooters like Blakeney and Hornsby.
“At halftime, I was in a zone,” Blakeney said after LSU took control and easily chalked up its fourth Southeastern Conference win in a row to take over first place in the league. “I didn’t know I was going to get 30, but I knew I was going to keep being aggressive.”
That was certainly true.
After making 4-of-8 field-goal attempts in the first half, he was even hotter in the second half. He went 7-of-9 from the floor and helped his team to its largest lead of the night — 20 points — with 11:28 to play.
Blakeney, Hornsby and Ben Simmons combined to shoot 27-of-45, powering LSU, which led the SEC in field-goal percentage coming into the game, to a 52.5 percent shooting night.
Even though Simmons added 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, it was more than a three-man gang as the Tigers shared the ball with 25 assists on 32 baskets.
“It’s really difficult to guard us when guys are making shots,” coach Johnny Jones said. “Guys are making extra plays and extra passes, and we’re spreading the floor. We executed at a high level.”
It was especially good to see from Blakeney, who only recently regained his shooting touch after a 12-game stretch in which he made just 27 of 82 shots and lost his starting job. He was 16-of-31 in the previous five games before breaking out Saturday.
“I think it’s really huge for him,” Jones said. “What I applaud him for is coming off the bench with the right mindset, and I think he has done that the last several games. ... He started the second half, and he really impacted how we got off to that great second-half start. He played with a lot of energy and shot the ball well.”
Hornsby had a first-hand look at it when he was on the floor.
“It was great,” he said. “Was I surprised by what he did? Heck no. I know he’s a really confident basketball player, and if he’s going (good), he’s really dangerous. He just got great opportunities tonight and took full advantage of them. It can happen on any night.”
Perhaps going against Mississippi State guard Malik Newman, a close friend and a fellow McDonald’s All-American whom he tried to lure to LSU, had something to do with Blakeney’s performance.
Not so, Blakeney said.
“It wasn’t at all,” he said when asked whether the game was a competition between himself and Newman, who scored 12 points. “But it’s fun to play against him. I played against him a lot in high school, but (Saturday’s game) was more Mississippi State and LSU … not me and him.”
Blakeney did admit to talking to Newman a lot, and he drew a technical foul for staring at Newman after he dunked over him for his final points of the game.
“Yeah, I was talking to him,” Blakeney said.
While it felt good, it felt better to win and have a big hand in it. Blakeney hadn’t scored more than 15 points in a game since getting 22 in two of his first three games in an LSU uniform in November.
“It felt good. It’s something I needed,” he said. “As a scorer, you definitely need games like that to help your confidence.
“I’m a confident guy whether I had that game or not, but it definitely helped my confidence.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.