PISCATAWAY, N.J. - With an exciting one-point come-from-behind win in the rear-view mirror and staring straight at fall semester final exams in the future, the LSU men's basketball team closes the first chapter on the 2011-12 season Saturday night when they travel for a 6 p.m. CST contest at Rutgers University.
The game at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, known as "The RAC", will be televised by ESPNU and broadcast on the Baton Rouge affiliate of the LSU Sports Radio Network (New Country 100.7 FM The Tiger). The game will also be available in the Geaux Zone at LSUsports.net.
The game will be the 11th of 12 games in the Big East-SEC Challenge and with only the Mississippi State-West Virginia game to follow the LSU game in Starkville later Saturday evening, the LSU-Rutgers game could help decide the winner of the series depending on how the games go Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
LSU is 4-3 on the year after the 59-58 win over Houston Tuesday night at Hofheinz Pavilion in which LSU rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit to get the win on two Storm Warren free throws with 1.2 seconds to play.
Rutgers is also 4-3 on the year, having won all four home games, the latest a 94-56 triumph over the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. The others wins have come against Dartmouth, Sacred Heart and Hampton.
The Tigers found themselves in a 38-30 hole at intermission before making an aggressive showing in the second half that found LSU getting a 14-1 advantage in the second half on the offensive boards. In fact, the winning free throws were set up after Anthony Hickey missed on a drive to the bucket and Storm Warren grabbed the rebound and was fouled on his shot attempt.
Andre Stringer led LSU in the game with 13 points, while Ralston Turner and Warren had 12 points and Justin Hamilton had 11. The Tigers won despite their young freshman stars, Anthony Hickey and Johnny O'Bryant III, having off offensive nights.
Rutgers is led in scoring by Gilvydas Biruta, who comes in averaging 12.1 points per game and has scored in double figures in five consecutive games. Guard Myles Mack (9.4 ppg), shot 7-of-9 from the field with three treys in a career high 20-point effort against UMBC.
Stringer comes in the leading scorer on the team at 12.0 points per game, while Hickey is at 11.6 and Turner and Hamilton 11.1 points.
This will be LSU's first game in the state of New Jersey since 1982 when LSU lost to North Carolina, 47-43 at East Rutherford, N. J.
Following the Tigers return after the game, final exams begin on Monday on the LSU campus through Saturday afternoon and LSU begins a three-game homestand at the Maravich Center on Saturday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. against Boise State. Tickets for the game are available online at LSUtix.net.
Follow LSU Basketball on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/LSUBasketball and on Twitter @LSUBasketball and @LSUCoachJohnson.
Here are comments from Coach Johnson at his Thursday media session regarding the Tuesday win over Houston and Saturday's game at Rutgers:
On the explanation of ups and downs his team has shown...
"Well, I don't want to overanalyze but, there are three freshmen on this basketball team that haven't played at this level and are a very intricate part of where we're trying to go and what we're trying to do. The bottom line is that it has to do with who we're playing sometimes. And when I say who we're playing -- match ups, different types of philosophies offensively, so it has forced us to do some things defensively that we were prepared to do, but haven't been able to do it on a consistent basis. When you start looking at why we've gotten beat in the losses that we have, I think it's a direct correlation between rebounding, being disciplined enough to block out, being disciplined enough not to gamble and keep the guy in front of you at the point of attack, being disciplined enough to rotate and go attack."
On success of team when they rebound and listen when it comes to defense...
"Well I've been stressing defense and rebounding the ball my entire career, since I've been an assistant coach and a (head) coach. I think there comes a point in time when good teams, good players really understand that and don't let what happens on offense dictate how they play on defense. That's hard to do, but that's a fact. As it relates to our last time out versus Houston, we defended and we did a really good job versus a team that was really snake-bitten by their previous loss. It caused them problems because of how they scored at home. I would like to think there's an element of confidence, but I say that coming off of our Georgia Tech game, which was a very physical team and different conference. We guarded them and we shot the ball well and we did a good job then and we came back (against South Alabama) for whatever reason. It was a mystery to me. We didn't compete at the level, and we didn't defend at the level, we broke down mentally against South Alabama. Hopefully, we won't have to learn lessons the hard way, again."
On taking Storm out of starting lineup (against Houston)...
"All I know is this, Storm started a game versus Georgia Tech, he didn't start the game versus Houston. We look in terms of the people we play and we've beaten and those were two quality wins of the season so far. Storm was the best player on the floor both of those times and he finished the game in terms of good defense and rebounding. I'm not into shaking guys up and I'm not worried about starting, I'm more worried about guys understanding that it's we, us, and ours, never me, I, and them.
On the players' view of Rutgers fitting with his view of Rutgers...
"Rutgers is young, they're really talented. I don't know if they're undersized, but they're very explosive and very quick. They're tough at home, obviously when you look at who they play and they're 4-0 at home. It's a different type of match up for us just because of their overall explosiveness. Mike Rice is getting them back to where they need to be and he's a hell of a coach, but it's a Big East opponent and it's going to be a really tough challenge for us. We have to concern ourselves with ourselves and make sure we don't have breakdowns and that we make progress off of what just happened the last time we turned to defense. We haven't shot the ball very well but I'm not really worried about that. If we can defend and keep the tempo to our liking and play to our strengths, we have a chance to be successful and if we don't, we don't have a chance to be successful.
On free throws being a key component to winning...
"Well if you go to any game, offensively you want to go to the free throw line and capitalize. Do I spend a lot of time worrying about guys' free throw percentages? No, we just try to shoot free throws as much as we can during the course of practice when they're tired, or fatigued, or think they're tired and move forward. In terms of the quality shots we've been getting, we have been very good. We're getting good shots. It's ironic that the Houston game was very similar to Georgia Tech. Guys come out wide open, and we're not trying to miss them, but not all of them go down. I thought our execution on offense in terms of guys, again, re-focus themselves to setting good screens, making the proper pass, and to guys receiving the screen and coming off of it. Its certain things that we have to continue to grind on and we have to continue to find a way to fight fatigue and execute whatever side of the ball it is, then we'll have some success, or continued success."
On Hickey having his first off game and getting back on track...
"Well bottom line, he didn't shoot the ball very well but I thought defensively he was probably as good as he's been all year because he didn't gamble. He had a couple of crucial steals and showed some courage in terms of late game situations and late clock situations, the whole team. What we drew up, we wanted to get the ball to him and get him to the lane, which he got to, and he missed a left hand runner, but he's a freshman and he's going to have ups and downs. The only thing that gets anybody back on track is you get back and go to work and play with a lot more confidence and trust the system, trust your teammates and things will work themselves out."