The main goals for the LSU basketball team going into Wednesday night’s matchup against UT Martin were cut and dried for its first outing since a 1-2 showing in the Maui Invitational.
The first goal: Go into an extended 10-day break for final exams on a strong note. The second, showing improvement on the defensive end of the floor, would help the Tigers achieve the first.
In the end, coach Will Wade got both with an easy 84-60 win over UT Martin that was needed to end a two-game losing skid magnified by some shoddy defense in Maui.
Despite a few breakdowns in the second half, when UT Martin trimmed a 20-point deficit to 12 with just under 13 minutes remaining, the Tigers gave Wade what he wanted — and needed — to see.
“Defense. … Our ball-screen defense was better (Wednesday),” he said. “It wasn’t like a sieve. We were able to at least stop some folks today.
“That was a plus, that was progress,” Wade said. “We have to continue to get better defensively.”
An inconsistent defense was a major concern for the LSU basketball team in three of the Tigers’ first five games to start the season.
The drive to make strides and get better on defense will take on greater importance when the Tigers get together for practice in between studying and taking finals.
Once that’s behind them, the Tigers will return to the court Dec. 10 to face UNC Wilmington, an NCAA tournament team a year ago. It’ll be the first of five games in a 15-day span before a brief break for Christmas.
“We have to get better over these next 10 days because Wilmington’s really good,” Wade said. “We have to take care of business academically and get ready before the schedule kicks up a little bit with Wilmington, Houston (Dec. 13) and Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 16).”
That’s why, Wade said, a step in the right direction was much needed against UT Martin even thought the Skyhawks were not nearly as competitive as Notre Dame and Marquette when they exploited LSU’s defense in scoring 92 and 94 points, respectively.
LSU (4-2) held UT Martin (1-6) to nine field goals and 24 points in the first half, although Wade said he thought it could have been better.
“I thought the first half was very good,” he said, “but we probably should have held them to about 18 or 20.”
Still, the 24 points were the fewest points allowed by the Tigers in a half this season.
When the LSU basketball team gathered Sunday for its first practice since returning from the Maui Invitational, it was back to the drawing board.
But it was expected considering the amount of time Wade and his coaching staff spent on making fixes to the defense in three practice sessions following their return from Hawaii.
“It was a solid performance, which we needed going into this 10-day break,” Wade said. “I thought we got better after we got back from Maui. I looked at my practice plans and we worked 22 minutes total in practice on offense.
“Everything else was defense, so it was good to see some dividends from our investment there.”
The offense was solid after a slow start, but Skylar Mays, Daryl Edwards and Duop Reath provided first-half sparks and wound up combining for 48 of the team’s 84 points.
Wade said there's room for improvement in rebounding even though Reath had nine in 21 minutes and Aaron Epps had eight. As a team, however, the Tigers finished in a 33-33 tie against the smaller Skyhawks.
All in all, he said it was a good way to end the first half of LSU’s 12-game nonconference schedule.
“Our guys were excited in the locker room,” Wade said. “I said we’ll have to see if this is an anomaly or if this is going to be our new standard. We’ll see how it goes from here.”