On the Bounce

Malik Morgan (photo courtesy Steve Franz/LSU)

It's been a tough two-week stretch for the Tigers entering SEC play. One bright spot in the past week for LSU and Coach Johnny Jones was the play of freshman Malik Morgan.

Week two of SEC basketball is in the books, and it proved to be just as fruitless for LSU as the first.

Johnny Jones' Tigers couldn't close out a tight one at home Wednesday night, falling in overtime to South Carolina 82-73, before losing at Georgia Saturday by a final of 67-58.

LSU now stands at 9-6 overall, 0-4 in the conference.

Below I provide three quick hitters on the Tigers, highlighting the latest and most important team news and trends on the court.

Keep an eye out for this weekly feature on Sunday nights through the end of the 2012-13 season.

1. Anthony Hickey and Johnny O'Bryant can't seem to get hot on the same night.

There was a lot of talk this past week about problems scoring against the zone, and it's undoubtedly one of this team's biggest Achilles heels. But when boiled down to its simplest element, LSU just isn't getting premier offensive production from its two big guns on the same night. In fact the Tigers really haven't all season. Consider that through 15 games the two players have scored in double figures together only four times. Now, once came Saturday against Georgia, but in Hickey's case it took 4-of-15 shooting to get his 12 points.

O'Bryant started the season off with more of a bang, scoring double-digit points in the first six games he played in, but the sophomore has been struggling since he sustained his second injury of the season against Marquette – a high ankle sprain. JOB's scoring output the past five games: 2, 6, 2, 9 and 16. Coach Johnny Jones said this past week he feels O'Bryant has more of a "nagging injury," and is poised to break through most of the pain. Hopefully for Tiger fans his 16 and 14 double double in Athens is a sign of things to come.

Hickey has been on the opposite track, starting slow and having issues staying on the court in the beginning of the season, a stretch which saw him six points or less in three of his opening six games played. Since, Hickey has picked it up, albeit by volume (not necessarily efficient shooting). His last seven games' scoring outputs: 10, 18, 14, 13, 15, 18 and 12. The downside: Hickey's shooting 40.6% from the field since SEC play tipped off four games ago.

LSU is currently the only team in the SEC winless in league play. If both of its top offensive players can get on the same page, working a better inside-out game, the Tigers will stand a better chance of shaking that distinction.

2. The team's defensive struggles in the second halves of ballgames continue.

The Tigers haven't been an out-and-out poor defensive team during the four-game drought, still stealing balls and getting in passing lanes in spurts while typically starting well in games – almost feeling out the opponent like a boxer. It's a completely different story in the second 20 minutes, when LSU has been downright rotten on the defensive end, showing its shortcomings and lack of depth with a rotation going only seven or eight deep.

Whether the Tigers are getting tired, somewhat lazy or a combination in the second half, the numbers illuminate what's obvious to any spectator: LSU lets up buckets with a lot less resistance as time goes on. The trend continued this past week, following up a conference-opening week in which Auburn sprinted past LSU in the second half and Florida bombarded the Tigers.

The Bayou Bengals held South Carolina to 42.9% shooting in the first half. In the second the Gamecocks shot 46.2% and went to the free-throw line a combined 25 times (making 19) in the second half and overtime. LSU's perimeter players – a group which includes pretty good defenders in Hickey and Charles Carmouche – were getting beat off the dribble with regularity. Against Georgia, after allowing only 44.4% shooting in the first 20 minutes, LSU let the Bulldogs shoot 50.0% from the field after halftime.

Tightening up defensively with the game on the line is something this team's still learning to do. Hard to pull away from a team when you can't stop giving them points. Even harder when trying to come from behind.

3. Malik Morgan emerged as perhaps the one real bright spot of the week.

For almost a month leading into this past week, Jones had used Morgan and Shane Hammink, two freshmen, almost interchangeably. LSU's coach carved out basically equivalent time for both, pitting the two newbies against one another to see who'd be more capable of stealing time at the two and three for the SEC portion of this season. It appears Morgan has won that battle.

The John Curtis product had a smooth, efficient game on Wednesday, scoring seven points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists and no turnovers in 27 minutes of run – a high number for him. Just as important, he gave LSU a needed presence on the defensive side and came up with two steals. Jones rewarded Morgan with a start Saturday, while Charles Carmouche sat out, and the frosh got off to a fast start en route to 11 points, four rebounds and three more steals in 30 minutes. For the week Morgan shot 50.0% from the field.

It's clear Jones and the staff are comfortable trusting Morgan in more spots now, and he'll be a valuable contributor the rest of the way in the SEC. Particularly with Carmouche and Shavon Coleman struggling to provide some of the offense they did in non-conference play, LSU could use the offensive spark.

Four-point play: Carmouche didn't practice Friday and missed the Georgia game. It's been rumored that he's still dealing with a lingering knee injury, something that first cropped up with the player on the West Coast road trip in mid-December … Freshman point guard Corban Collins took a nasty headfirst dive into the knee of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on Saturday. Collins remained down for some time before being carried off the court by teammates. No update on his condition, but Collins was tweeting Sunday morning, thanking O'Bryant and others for their well wishes … After two straight games playing 27 minutes or more, senior center Andrew Del Piero came back down to earth against Georgia. ADP logged 15 minutes, scoring two points and grabbing two boards. As long as O'Bryant keeps getting healthier, it stands to reason Del Piero's minutes will drop some in SEC action … Hickey has reclaimed the lead for the time being as the No. 1 steals-per-game guy in the nation, averaging 3.54 swipes per outing. He's now overtaken Briante Weber of VCU (3.37).

UP NEXT

LSU hosts Texas A&M (12-5, 2-2) on Wednesday night in the PMAC at 7 p.m. before heading to Rupp Arena to take on Kentucky (12-5, 3-1) Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.

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