The first game of the 2011-12 season was one to remember for the LSU men’s basketball team, a 96-point explosion that featured seven players in double figures and showed off four newcomers making their first appearance wearing purple and gold.
The Tigers take a step away from home - and a step up in competition - as they embark on a weeklong road trip through the state of South Carolina.
First up comes Tuesday night’s matchup with Coastal Carolina at Kimbel Arena in Conway.
A short bus ride will then take the Tigers to Charleston for the annual Charleston Classic. LSU opens the eight-team event Thursday against Northwestern and will play twice more Saturday and Sunday before returning home.
“We have a string of games on the road,” LSU guard Ralston Turner said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to just get better. We’re playing a good Coastal Carolina team that obviously beat us last year, and then have the tournament. We want to continue to build on defense and hopefully come back with all wins.”
The Tigers, coming off back-to-back losing seasons, got off on the right foot in Saturday afternoon’s 96-74 win over Southland Conference foe Nicholls State.
Freshmen Anthony Hickey with 13 points and Johnny O’Bryant and John Isaac with 12 apiece led seven double-digit scorers, the most balanced attack by LSU since the 1999-2000 opener, when the Tigers also had seven scorers in double figures.
Junior Justin Hamilton, who sat out last season after transferring from Iowa State, had 11 points and four assists in his LSU debut. From the low post, he was instrumental in facilitating the offense’s inside-out approach.
“With the addition of those four guys, we knew it was going to improve our skill level, our strength and our overall ability to make plays against certain people,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said.
The Tigers, who avenged a humbling defeat by Nicholls early last season, will look to continue that theme when they hit the road for the first time.
A year ago at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Coastal Carolina took a 78-69 victory in overtime to snap LSU’s four-game winning streak.
The Chanticleers went on to win a school-record 28 games, but for the second straight season lost in the Big South tournament title game despite owning the No. 1 seed, and were relegated to an NIT appearance.
Leading scorer Anthony Raffa and top shot-blocker Sam McLaurin lead the returnees. Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Chris Gradnigo, a LaGrange High graduate, enters the fray after sitting out 2010-11 to satisfy NCAA requirements.
Veteran coach Cliff Ellis, who went 186-125 at Auburn from 1994-2004, is back for his fifth year on the Coastal sideline.
“I haven’t even looked at Coastal,” Johnson said Saturday at his postgame news conference. “That’s why I’m antsy about getting out the door and getting home.”
Blowouts of Division III foes Covenant (96-54) and Meth?odist (104-61) have Coastal off to a 2-0 start.
Raffa scored 17 points in both wins. Gradnigo had 23 points against Methodist after scoring 10 in his Coastal debut.
The Chanticleers initially hoped to have the new Student Recreation and Convocation Center open in time for the LSU game, but school officials announced in April the construction of the arena was taking longer than expected and wouldn’t be ready until later in the season.