lsunorthfloridabasketball.122317 HS 077b.jpg

LSU head coach Will Wade speaks with LSU guard Tremont Waters (3) during a North Florida substitution, Friday, December 22, 2017, at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

In its final game prior to a three-day Christmas break, the LSU basketball team did what it has been trying to do all season.

The Tigers managed to hit all five of their pregame goals for the first time in a 104-52 thrashing of North Florida, just three nights after coming so close — achieving four of five — in handling Sam Houston State 90-58.

In addition to one goal that’s tailored to each opponent, the Tigers must get at least 40 deflections on defense, get three consecutive defensive stops a total of five times, commit no more than 12 turnovers, and out-rebound their foe.

The wild-card goal against UNF was getting 60-plus paint touches.

“It’s not difficult when you play well,” coach Will Wade said with a smile Tuesday. “So that’s the goal: To play well. That was the first time we got all five of them, so that’s something to build on.”

The breakthrough came at the right time for the Tigers, who were headed for some quality time away from the basketball court, after coming up just three defensive deflections short of doing it against Sam Houston.

The Sam Houston State game was only the second time LSU achieved all four this season. Getting three of the five usually results in a win, Wade said.

“That was the first time all year we got deflections,” he said. “Deflections is the one we usually don’t get because we’re not active enough on defense. So this is progress.”

Building on the goal-oriented successes against lower-tier competition could help LSU (8-3) when it plays its final nonconference game — and first true road game — against Memphis (9-3) at 8 p.m. Thursday.

The other good thing to come out of their last two games was allowing fewer than 60 points in back-to-back games for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

“It’s good,” said Wade, whose team was allowing 78.9 points a game prior to holding down Sam Houston and North Florida. “I thought we played well against North Florida, thought we did a nice job against them.

“We set the tone with our defense and I thought the point of attack of our defense was really good, so we did a nice job setting the tone in that game.”

Sampson ready

After returning a week earlier than expected from a sprained left ankle that forced him to miss six games, junior guard Brandon Sampson said Tuesday he’s ready to take on a bigger workload against Memphis.

After playing 10 minutes against North Florida and scoring seven points, five coming almost immediately after entering the game in the first half, Sampson reported no ill effects from playing for the first time in more than four weeks.

Wade said after the game the “training wheels” were off Sampson and Tuesday said he’s good to go for 30 or 35 minutes against Memphis.

Wade, however, stopped short of saying Sampson would return to the starting lineup.

Sampson credited trainer Shawn Eddy with getting him back to the court after working him relentlessly.

“I thank him because he had more faith in the ankle than I did,” Sampson said. “I was skeptical about cutting, but he was more trusting about it. So, big thanks to Shawn.”

Sampson said he knew he was back when point guard Tremont Waters threw him a lob in the second half and he instinctively went up to receive the pass and laid it in the basket.

"When he threw it, I didn’t even think about it,” said Sampson, who also had three rebounds and two assists. “I just went up and got it.”

Faster starts

Wade said the break after playing five games in a 13-day span was good to analyze some of his team’s recent trends on offense and defense.

“One trend we have to fix is we’ve got to get off to better starts,” he said, quickly adding you can’t start early enough. “We have to win a jump ball … we have not won a jump ball in four games. That would help us get off to a better start.

“So, we’ve kind of got some games within the game that we’ve got to get fixed.”

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.