By Trey Mongrue
Until last Saturday, Darcy Malone had seen just 20 minutes of action on any basketball court in LSU’s 2014-15 season. That includes eight games in which the sophomore center was never even asked to shed his warm-up top and substitute in.
But that did not stop Johnny Jones from playing the Australia native 16 minutes in the Tigers’ thrilling 87-84 double overtime win over Georgia to notch their first win in Southeastern Conference play.
“Coach told me before the game to be ready to be called on,” Malone recalled. “I was aware of the fact that I was going to be playing, but I wasn’t aware that I was going to be playing in both overtimes.
“You have to always be ready.”
While the career-high in minutes might have familiarized Malone to LSU fans who may have not know that he was on the roster, he was largely ineffective on the offensive end of the floor, pulling down just one rebound and scoring no points.
That kind of production has been the norm from all of LSU’s post players that aren’t names Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin. Lack of front court depth has forced the third-year head coach to search for any little perceived spark in hopes of spelling LSU’s two leading scorers and rebounders.
“Unfortunately, the depth on our team will still be in question because of the youthfulness of the team that we have,” said Jones. “We know that we have a long way to go.”
With both Mickey and Martin facing foul trouble for a second consecutive game, Jones relied on Malone, senior John Odo and sophomore Brian Bridgewater. The trio combined for 20 minutes of play and failed to score a single point, but committed six fouls.
It was even worse two days prior at Missouri. There, it was Odo, Bridgewater and freshman Elbert Robinson III to spell the starters for more than 25 minutes. Once again, not a single point was registered and they were outrebounded by Missouri’s bench bigs, 8-to-4, in LSU’s 74-67 overtime loss.
“We’ve got to continue to search,” said Jones. “We need to make sure that the guys that are over there [on the bench] can give us some productive minutes.”
This is by no means a recent trend for Jones and the Tigers. LSU’s two losses to Old Dominion and Clemson at the Paradise Jam in U.S. Virgin Islands followed largely the same script – early foul trouble for Martin and Mickey forcing Jones to turn to his bench early.
It has forced LSU’s two sophomore starters to shoulder even more pressure. It has become quite apparent that if both are in early foul trouble, LSU likely will be on the losing in.
Both Martin and Mickey realize this.
“We have to find ways to play through [foul troubles],” said Martin, who is having a tough time on the offensive end in his own right with just six made field goals on 20 attempts since SEC play started.
“We need to adjust to the ways the refs are calling and find ways to stay out there on the floor.”
“Oh yeah, definitely,” added Mickey on the strain of staying on the floor. “But I have faith in my team that we have a good enough bench that if something like that happens again, we’ll get it worked out.”
With a quick glance at the roster, it would seem that putting bodies in the paint would be one LSU’s lesser problems. In a league where size is at a premium, LSU boasts two of only five players in the SEC that are at or above seven feet tall in Robinson and Malone.
But even in basketball, size is not always the essential element needed. Malone came to LSU last year as a face-up shooter opposed to a player that likes to use his size to force his way towards the basket. The plan for Robinson – who came to Baton Rouge this season weighing over 300-pounds – was to be the Tigers’ enforcer down low, allowing Mickey to play more of a power forward role and Martin to shift out more to the wing.
“We need to make sure that the guys that are over there [on the bench] can give us some productive minutes.”
– LSU men’s basketball coach Johnny Jones
– LSU men’s basketball coach Johnny Jones
That strategy quickly went awry when Robinson was clearly still getting used to playing with a leaner body. In sort of a learning-by-doing approach, Jones started Robinson in the Tigers’ first four games of the season. However, the freshman averaged just 1.75 rebounds and one point per game in that span.
“We’ve got to make sure that we continue to bring Elbert along,” Jones explained of the freshman center. “We need that. We’re hopeful that we will be able to get some productive minutes from him in conference play.”
Bridgewater and Odo have had the pleasure of seeing a bit more consistency. Both having games this season where they logged more than 20 minutes.
“It gets to a point where we just want to make everyone with who we play with better,” Malone said of the notion of competing with the other backups. “It could be one week where John play a lot of minutes and I play none or another week where we all play ten minutes, whatever helps the team.”
However, nothing has really stuck for Jones who would’ve loved to have a rough draft of his player rotation written down before conference play started.
Jones’ latest frontcourt coup, Arizona transfer and New Orleans-born Craig Victor, has officially enrolled at LSU and will be eligible to practice with the team right away. But because of transfer rules, he will not be able to play in a game until the December of next season.
Until then, the merry-go-round with LSU’s backup big men will continue to turn.
“We figure that our big men are going to have to bring something extra off the bench,” said Malone. “If I have to do that then that’s my job.”