BATON ROUGE, La. -- The box score might not reflect it, but LSU put up a solid fight against one of the SEC’s better teams in Vanderbilt on Wednesday night.
After facing the likes of the Commodores and No. 1 Kentucky, the Tigers (13-10, 3-6) now begin a much more manageable home stretch. Five of LSU’s remaining seven games are against teams with losing conference records.
To start though, they have two rematches against teams jockeying for postseason consideration in Alabama and No. 18 Mississippi State.
The Crimson Tide (16-7, 5-4) are the first to rematch with the Tigers, after downing them last month in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama handled LSU pretty easily, 69-53, in the first meeting, but with the advantage of playing at home, this has to be a game the Tigers win if they’re going to avoid the conference cellar.
Here are three keys for LSU to follow for a win.
Get back on defense
The last time these two met, there were turnovers aplenty. The Tigers and Tide committed 30 turnovers. The difference is, Alabama managed 15 more points off turnovers, despite committing the same number of turnovers as LSU, which speaks to the Tide’s ability to get baskets in transition.
On top of that, the Tigers allowed the Alabama shooters to manage 51 percent from the field as a team. The defense will have to be better this time around.
Find another scorer
It’s been boom or bust for Justin Hamilton to this point in the SEC season. The junior is the Tigers’ leading scorer, averaging 13.4 points per game, and he’s had several big moments in conference play, including scoring 27 points at Florida, 23 against Ole Miss and 20 at Arkansas.
Against better defenses, though, it’s been tough sledding. Last time, the Crimson Tide allowed him to reach 12 points and six boards, but he was hassled all night and shot just 3-of-12 from the floor.
If Hamilton struggles Saturday, someone else has to come through and be a threat. Wednesday against the Commodores, Anthony Hickey and Ralston Turner each put up double-digit efforts, and Storm Warren came off the bench to add 13. LSU has to hope that keeps up.
With most of the big boys off the schedule, LSU needs its youngsters to step up and play like veterans down the stretch. In his past two home games, Hickey has accounted for just two turnovers, although he’s struggled to get going as a scorer, notching a combined 17 points.
Conversely, fellow freshman Johnny O’Bryant has flirted with a double-doubles each of the last two times the Tigers played at home. But he’s been careless with the ball, accounting for 10 total turnovers.
With nine SEC games behind them, these two could help the Tigers’ chances for a strong finish with a little more consistency.