Going into his team’s regular-season opener Friday night, LSU men’s basketball coach Johnny Jones was looking for some improvement from the Tigers’ exhibition win over Southwest Baptist a week earlier.
For a good stretch against McNeese State, Jones saw it.
He saw the Tigers take off after a slow start to score 27 unanswered points over a nine-minute stretch spanning the end of the first half and start of the second that produced a 34-point lead with 14 minutes to play.
On the other side, LSU didn’t keep the hammer down, allowing McNeese State to creep back into it in the final 10 minutes before the Tigers held on for an 81-70 victory.
So, playing a complete game, something Jones’ team didn’t always do a year ago, will be the focus during two games in the next four days for LSU (1-0).
The stretch begins with an 8 p.m. Monday game against Kennesaw State (0-1) in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and continues at 8 p.m. Thursday against South Alabama.
Both games are part of the regional round of the Legends Classic before LSU advances to the tournament championship to be played Nov. 23-24 at the Barclays Center in New York.
LSU held a 70-38 lead at the halfway point of the second half against McNeese State when Jones began giving his backups some playing time, which gave the Cowboys a chance to whittle away at the huge deficit.
“We didn’t do a great job defensively. … We allowed them some driving lanes to get to the basket and shoot open 3s,” Jones said. “We didn’t execute like we needed to on the offensive end and missed a series of free throws.”
LSU was 9-of-19 in the second half to finish just 16-of-32 from the free-throw line.
When it was all put together, McNeese State finished the game on a 32-11 run that made things a little sticky for LSU in the waning minutes.
“All in all, I’m happy and excited about the win,” Jones said. “We did grow a little. We got better from (the exhibition game), and we’ll have to do the same thing transitioning from this game to Monday night. Hopefully, we’ll continue to improve.”
There were some positives against McNeese that Jones would like to see carry over to Kennesaw State, which dropped a 77-64 decision to Alabama on Friday despite a 34-point, 10-rebound effort from 5-foot-9 guard Yonel Brown.
“The big thing is showing our team the beginning of the second half when we came out and the way we finished the first half on a nice little run,” Jones said. “In the second half, we executed there early on.
“We played really well for a pretty long stretch, so there are some positive things we can show them for us to get to the point we need to. Obviously, it’s not going to be perfect, but we have to make sure we’re showing signs of improvement.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.