The joy that emanated from a solid all-around performance and an impressive 22-point blowout of Massachusetts on Tuesday night didn’t last very long for the LSU basketball team.
The Tigers didn’t have much time to celebrate an 82-60 victory over the Minutemen, who ruined their season opener a year ago, before shifting their focus to their biggest challenge this season: Thursday night’s huge road test against undefeated and 16th-ranked West Virginia.
When they awoke Wednesday, less than 12 hours after dismissing UMass, the Tigers (5-2) had much work to do to get ready for West Virginia (7-0), which is well-rested after Saturday night’s 86-57 belting of Charleston.
While the victory over UMass may have come a lot easier than expected, especially with the Minutemen coming off a 24-win season and NCAA tournament berth, LSU will have to play even better to have a chance against West Virginia.
Yet it’s a game LSU coach Johnny Jones has been pointing to for a while, as was Tuesday night’s home game with UMass.
“When our schedule came out, knowing this was going to be a very tough week, it was one where we were looking forward to the challenges,” Jones said. “I thought we kind of had an idea of where our team was this week. … For our guys to come out tonight and accept the challenge out of the gate in the first half, I thought we played extremely well on both ends of the floor.”
LSU, which had some lapses in the first half that allowed teams to come back from early deficits, ran out to a 12-point halftime lead Tuesday night with solid play on offense — getting 14 points from point guard Josh Gray — and defense.
The Tigers then put the Minutemen away by maintaining a double-digit lead for the final 15 minutes of the contest — posting their biggest lead of the night on Gray’s 3-point basket with 1:25 to play.
Gray, a junior-college transfer, scored his career high in an LSU uniform with 25 points. He also had five assists, four rebounds and three steals.
Jordan Mickey had 16 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots in his return from a slight ankle injury that kept him out of Saturday’s game with McNeese State, while Tim Quarterman had 15 points and Jarell Martin 12.
LSU shot better than 50 percent from the floor for the second game in a row, knocking down 53.8 percent of their field-goal attempts with Gray draining 11-of-15 — including 3-of-4 from 3-point range.
“Most definitely, it was a great win and it can carry over to West Virginia,” Gray said. “For us to beat UMass was great because they have won a lot of big-time games, but we have to get ready for West Virginia.”
Jones and his team know it will only get tougher going into West Virginia, which has won its games by an average margin of 19.6 points.
The closest the Mountaineers have come to losing was in a 70-66 victory over Boston College on Nov. 21, five days after BC was handed a nine-point loss by UMass.
“It’s a great week. … It’s a quick turnaround for us,” said Jones, whose team boarded a chartered flight for West Virginia on Wednesday after classes and practice. “It’s going to take that type effort (from Tuesday night) to play against a quality team like West Virginia.”
At least the Tigers are coming off a big win.
“This game was a big confidence-booster for us,” guard Keith Hornsby said. “I felt like this game was the best we’ve played so far on offense and defense. But we have to move on and focus on West Virginia.”
“We’ve got to do a great job of making sure we’re composed in that type of environment being on the road,” Jones said. “It’s going to be a great experience for our young team.”
Former LSU player Collis Temple III will be the guest speaker for the December edition of the Tipoff Luncheon hosted by Jones on Tuesday at L’Auberge Resort.
Jones will speak about his team and the season to date before taking questions from media and fans in the audience.
The buffet lunch, which costs $14.99 per person, begins at 11:30 a.m. with the program starting at 12:10 p.m.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.