In the wake of another disappointing setback, LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones said Thursday a lack of focus wasn’t the reason for the Tigers late-game collapse and eventual 20-point setback at Ole Miss on Tuesday night.
Jones pointed to fatigue as a factor after his team outplayed Ole Miss on the Rebels’ home floor for 30 minutes, which included holding a nine-point lead with less than 11 minutes left.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, whose team took the lead five minutes later and outscored LSU 17-0 over the final 4½ minutes for a 96-76 victory, said he sensed the same thing after the Tigers went down for the 12th time in a row.
It showed on the stats sheet as LSU’s three starting guards all logged at least 33 minutes.
Antonio Blakeney played a season-high 38 minutes, including all 20 in the second half, while Skylar Mays and Brandon Sampson finished with 34 and 33, respectively.
Sampson played 19 minutes in the second period and Mays 16.
Conversely, no Ole Miss player was on the floor for more than 29 minutes.
Jones said he would’ve liked to have gotten Blakeney and Sampson a breather, but that changed when LSU, which led 47-44 at halftime, scored the first eight points of the second period to build an 11-point lead with 16:25 to play.
“We were on a stretch there, so I was a little hesitant taking out Blakeney and Sampson, getting those guys out at the time because we had a pretty good flow going,” Jones said. “When we didn’t, (Ole Miss) made their run late and it was really tough to get them out.
“It’s a real fine line for us right now in getting those guys out,” he added, “especially when we’re counting on those guys to score so much for us.”
Blakeney, who averages a team-high 33.1 minutes a game, leads the team in scoring at 17.0 points per game. Sampson gets 11.3 a game and Mays is averaging 10.7 in Southeastern Conference play.
Another problem was Blakeney, who scored 22 first-half points in going 9 of 12 from the floor, took only five shots in the second half even though he did get to the free-throw line twice and sank all four of his attempts.
Blakeney did not score after hitting a 3-point basket with 12:47 remaining to give the Tigers a 61-51 lead and didn’t take a shot in the final seven minutes. He still finished with 29 points.
Jones said Ole Miss made some defensive adjustments, shadowing Blakeney when they played man or keeping someone in close proximity to him when switching between their 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones.
“He probably wasn’t as efficient in knocking the shots down,” Jones said. “Again, when you play the amount of minutes he played the other night, sometimes it doesn’t allow you to be as explosive or effective in getting open and working to get to those spots.
“If that’s going to happen, our playmakers have to do a good job of creating opportunities for him.”
With his team preparing to play Alabama for the second time this season, Jones was asked how they could stop Crimson Tide guard Corban Collins from going off like he did in an 81-66 victory on Jan. 14.
“Probably put on another team’s jersey because he hasn’t played that way since,” Jones said, trying to manage a chuckle.
Collins, who played his freshman season at LSU in 2012-13 for Jones, scored a game-high 24 points on seven 3-point baskets. In nine SEC games since then, however, he’s scored 49 points and made just nine 3s.
“He came back and may have been a little bit more on a mission or had more excitement about his play,” Jones said of Collins’ return to LSU. “He came in and shot the ball extremely well against us. He had a huge night.”