In the past two games, LSU men’s basketball coach Johnny Jones got a little bit of everything from his team — not the least of which was two important wins.
In a 90-81 victory over Ole Miss on Wednesday, LSU shot better than 70 percent in the second half to overcome a three-point halftime deficit and some serious foul trouble.
When the offense dropped off a little Saturday, Jones’ team picked things up on defense — with a timely offensive rebound and putback by Craig Victor mixed in — for a 76-74 win over Arkansas to cap a 2-0 homestand.
To say LSU needed both going into a two-game road trip to Texas A&M, which leads the Southeastern Conference at 5-0, and Alabama would be an understatement.
Thanks to Victor’s rebound of an Antonio Blakeney miss and layup in front of Arkansas’ 6-foot-10 forward Moses Kingsley, LSU was able to walk away feeling good about itself for the second time in four nights.
“Our guys did a great job of competing at a great level,” Jones said. “I told them some nights, especially tonight, I didn’t think we hit on all cylinders. I don’t think we played our best, but we were able to get a victory against a very tough opponent. When that happens, it’s a great sign of a team growing and being able to win.”
That they won both despite Ben Simmons being in foul trouble against Ole Miss and admittedly having an off night against Arkansas — particularly on offense — was an equally encouraging sign to Jones.
After sitting down for the final nine minutes of the first half against Ole Miss with two fouls, Simmons had a rough time against Arkansas even though he had 16 points, 18 rebounds and three assists.
Simmons missed a dunk on a breakaway in the first half, committed five of LSU’s 10 turnovers, made fewer than 50 percent of his field-goal attempts for only the sixth time in 17 games and failed to draw iron on two free throws in the second half.
“I was just kind of frustrated the way I was playing,” Simmons said during a postgame interview with the SEC Network. “That’s probably the worst I’ve played all season.”
Yet, even when he wasn’t at his best, Simmons had a hand in the win.
His three-point play off an offensive rebound with 3:00 left gave the Tigers a 74-69 lead, then he raked the ball away from Arkansas guard Anthlon Bell with 34 seconds remaining when the Razorbacks had a chance to regain the lead and steal a win.
That Arkansas turnover led to a 3-point airball by Blakeney, which Victor gathered and turned into the game-winning basket with 4.2 seconds to play.
Combined with solid defense on Arkansas’ accurate perimeter shooters by Josh Gray, Jalyn Patterson, Keith Hornsby, Tim Quarterman and Blakeney, and Victor’s superior effort on both ends against Kingsley, LSU survived.
Victor finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds — half of them coming on the offensive end — and held Kingsley, who was averaging 17.3 points and 9.5 rebounds, to 11 and eight.
“Look at (Victor’s) numbers: He had 16 and 12 in 34 minutes,” Jones said. “On the defensive end, he played against one of the best post players in the league, who was leading his team in scoring. That was a tremendous job playing him.”
Arkansas wound up scoring 10 points fewer than its league-leading average of 84.4 points — and had just 34 points in the second half.
“That’s a good night for us,” Jones said, “when you’re playing a high-volume shooting team, a group that plays extremely fast and is a high-tempo team.”
“If you told me we’d have the ball in a tie game with 34 seconds left and a chance to steal one, I’d take it,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “We’d make them take tough shots, but then we wouldn’t rebound. So credit those guys. ... They had guys that made plays for them.”
Which was another encouraging sign for Jones.
“I’m pleased with the effort, pleased with closing (it out),” he said, “the big rebound by Craig Victor, the putback and three good defensive possessions at the end to seal the victory.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.