When the LSU basketball team takes the floor Saturday night for its first game in nine days, a lot will have transpired since the Tigers’ exhilarating road upset of 16th-ranked West Virginia.
Considering they’ve gone through concentrated study period and taken final exams, the Tigers’ thrilling one-point victory over the Mountaineers will be a distant memory when they go against Sam Houston State at 6 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
At least LSU coach Johnny Jones hopes the confidence-building win against West Virginia is a distant memory.
“One of the things we try to make sure we focus on is how important the next game is,” he said. “That will certainly be our approach. We are more worried about their concentration and how they’ve had to lock into their studies over the last few days.
“Now, we have to really turn our attention to our next opponent,” Jones said. “I think that should help us in terms of our focus and put us where we need to be.”
After the long layoff, guard Keith Hornsby said it’ll be vitally important to remember the outcome at West Virginia and carry it onto the court Saturday night.
“We just have to remember the feeling of how good it felt after once we came out victorious, and just carry that over to the games that come,” said Hornsby, one of five LSU players scoring in double digits. “We need to stay focused, stay upbeat in practice and keep on playing hard.”
The focus for LSU (6-2) will certainly be needed against an experienced Sam Houston State team that’s coming off a 24-11 season and advanced to the Southland Conference tournament final.
The Bearkats earned an invitation to the CollegeInsider.com tournament and scored an opening-round win over Alabama State for the school’s first NCAA postseason victory.
Six of Sam Houston’s top eight players are upperclassmen, which Jones said should present a good challenge for the Tigers as they come off the extended layoff and begin a five-game stretch that will lead them into Southeastern Conference play in early January.
Sam Houston State (5-3) has already had two close calls on the road, losing by two points against UNLV and by three to Texas A&M after falling behind 11-0 — which means LSU will have to transition quickly from finals.
“It’s going to be an opportunity to eventually get the focus just on basketball because finals will be done,” Jones said. “We are looking forward to how we will be affected — one by the long layoff and the guys going through their finals. We’re certainly looking forward to a great challenge.
“Those (Sam Houston’s close losses) are attention-getters that we can make sure and let our guys know about,” he said.
At the same time, Jones likes where his team is at after securing three consecutive wins following a 1-2 showing in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands in late November.
In its last two games, LSU trounced UMass by 22 points and just two nights later shocked West Virginia despite trailing by 14 points with less than two minutes gone in the second half.
“The guys were confident going into the West Virginia game,” Jones said. “Coming out of there with a victory after being down 14 points, closing the way we did to win the basketball game and making the necessary plays down the stretch, I thought that gave our team a great deal of confidence.”
Jones is excited that finals are over, which will give the Tigers about a month to concentrate on nothing but basketball.
“This is a real critical time and a real crucial time for us, in terms of the learning curve and putting things in prior to conference play and getting ready,” he said. “During this break, we have an ample amount of time to do that.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.