The LSU basketball team was without two of its starters for the opening tip of Monday night’s game with the College of Charleston.
No Josh Gray. No Jarell Martin.
Gray missed his second game in a row with an ankle injury, and Martin was held out of the starting lineup after being involved in a minor car wreck earlier Monday, which caused him to be late for the team’s pre-practice.
Martin, who was replaced in the lineup by freshman Aaron Epps, entered the game at the 15:53 mark of the first half and scored nine quick points. He also had five rebounds and a pair of assists in his first eight minutes of play, helping LSU build a 35-15 halftime lead.
From there, LSU (9-2) had little trouble in coasting to a 71-47 win over College of Charleston (5-7) before about 4,500 fans in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. It was the Tigers’ sixth consecutive victory, equaling the longest winning streak of coach Johnny Jones’ three-year tenure.
“I wasn’t able to make pregame, so coach wanted someone to come off the bench that was more focused,” Martin said. “He knew I had some things going on and he understood from my viewpoint. So he wanted me to come off the bench.”
Martin was certainly focused when he checked in at the first official timeout.
He had four free throws, made a layup and knocked down a 3-point basket and added two assists to help LSU stretch its lead to 26-9 at the 7:39 mark.
“Because he wasn’t there for the game prep, we brought him off the bench,” Jones said of Martin, who started the first 10 games and is LSU’s leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. “It was nothing major.
“The true champ that he is, I thought he did an excellent job of being focused coming off the bench and having a great game and a great mindset. That says a lot about him and his character and the way we believe and trust in this team.”
After a bit of a slow start, which saw the Tigers make just one of four field-goal attempts, fellow forward Jordan Mickey was pleased to get Martin back on the floor.
“We were still happy to see our team play the way it did even with him sitting out the first four minutes,” said Mickey, who had eight points and seven rebounds in the first half.
LSU eventually led by as many as 28 points in the second half after Martin and Mickey combined to put on an impressive offensive and defensive display to finish off the Cougars.
Martin finished the game with 18 points, nine rebounds and three assists in just 26 minutes, while Mickey had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. He also had six blocked shots in 27 minutes.
Four of Mickey’s blocks came in a 43-second span of the second half — including three on one trip down the floor by College of Charleston.
Mickey swatted away shots by Joe Chealey, Canyon Barry and Glen Pierre Jr. in one sequence and then rejected one by Cameron Johnson on College of Charleston’s next possession — as the crowd roared its approval.
“It was pretty big for me and big for our team,” said Mickey, who led the Southeastern Conference with 3.1 blocks per game as a freshman last season. “Coach always talks about when you have fouls, you still have to be aggressive and can’t give up easy shots. That’s what I was able to do.”
After that stout defensive sequence pleased the crowd, Martin had a dunk on an alley-oop from Quarterman with 12:58 to play and Mickey added another less than a minute later, this one on an assist by Martin, to push LSU’s lead to 51-25 with 12:10 remaining.
When Jones took Martin and Mickey out with 7:02 left in the game, the Tigers had their largest lead of the night at 61-33.
Keith Hornsby added 11 points and four rebounds, and Quarterman, who started once again for Gray at point guard, contributed eight points and had six rebounds.
Defensively, LSU held College of Charleston to 28.1 percent shooting from the field as the Cougars made just 18 of 64 shots, while the Tigers shot 47.8 percent in their final game before the Christmas break.
“I thought our guys did a tremendous job of being focused and concentrating and coming out and playing with a great deal of intensity like they needed to in this game,” Jones said. “That’s a good sign for this basketball team.”
--Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.