In the aftermath of Saturday’s narrow loss to top-ranked Oklahoma, the LSU men’s basketball team didn’t have a lot of time to think about what might have been had it taken down the Sooners.
It was back to work Sunday for LSU’s coaches and players, who had to quickly press the refocus button and jump back into Southeastern Conference play after going toe-to-toe with Oklahoma in a 77-75 loss in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
The final 10-game stretch of the regular season, which will likely go a long way to determining if LSU gets an NCAA tournament bid, begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday when Johnny Jones’ team goes against Auburn in Auburn Arena.
While it was a quick turnaround, Jones said Monday it may not be bad for LSU (13-8, 6-2 SEC) to resume league play just 72 hours after its upset bid came up short. After only one practice Sunday, the Tigers went to class Monday morning and then boarded a chartered flight to Auburn.
Auburn (9-11, 3-5) is coming off a loss in the Challenge as well, dropping a 73-64 decision to Oklahoma State on its home floor.
“It’s always good to have an opportunity to get back on the floor in preparation for practice, then games,” Jones said. “Each one of our games certainly takes on its own identity. This game against Auburn is another challenge for us.
“It’s back to conference play, and (that) will certainly carry its own meaning for us to try to continue and extend playing well in our conference.”
Before falling to Oklahoma, LSU had won four of its previous five league games, with the only setback in that stretch being a 71-57 loss at No. 8 Texas A&M, which last week rose to fifth in the AP rankings.
Going into Tuesday night’s play, LSU was in a three-way tie for second with Kentucky and South Carolina in the conference race, one game behind Texas A&M.
On Tuesday night, the Tigers will try to reach the halfway point of the league with a 7-2 record, which would be the first time that’s happened in Jones’ four seasons.
After losing two of three games to Auburn last season, including an overtime setback in the SEC tournament quarterfinals, LSU will have to make sure it has put the Oklahoma loss in the past.
Based on Sunday’s practice, Jones said his team is looking at Auburn — and only Auburn.
“We certainly have a motto and something that we live by in terms of our approach to this season: It’s a journey for us,” he said. “After each stop, the last one would have been Saturday with the Oklahoma game, we have to make sure that we are able to move on regardless of the success or lack thereof.
“We have to make sure that we move on and prepare for our next stop. That will be Auburn. We’ve done a good job of engaging and being that way throughout the season. That’s a part of the growth of our team.”
Jones said while his team came up short on the scoreboard against Oklahoma, it wasn’t short on effort, which gives him reason to be excited about the next 10 games.
It starts with an Auburn team that defeated Kentucky and Alabama in a four-day stretch in January but dropped its next two league games before falling to Oklahoma State.
Forward Cinmeon Bowers is expected to return after playing just 17 minutes in a loss to Ole Miss on Jan. 27 and sitting out the Oklahoma State game for disciplinary reasons.
The 6-foot-7 Bowers, who was a thorn in LSU’s side in three games last season, averages 10.7 points and ranks fourth in the SEC with 9.1 rebounds a game. Forward Tyler Harris is fifth in the league with 8.3 rebounds per game.
Guard Kareem Canty has stepped up after two of Auburn’s top players at the position went down with injuries. He fourth in the SEC in scoring (18.5) and third in assists (5.3). He had 21 points and a career-high eight rebounds Saturday night.
Auburn is coming off a rough outing against Oklahoma State in which it shot just 29.0 percent from the floor. While that included a dreadful 0-for-12 showing from 3-point range, Jones is still wary of Bruce Pearl’s team.
“They’re a solid team,” he said. “To be able to beat Kentucky and getting into a game with Alabama, who I think is a very talented team, and to have success against those guys says a lot about them.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.