Dig Baton Rouge

Stretching it out

In his first two seasons with LSU basketball, Anthony Hickey approached play as the starting point guard predicated on his ability to score, whether that meant hitting a three-pointer in transition or to drive the lane for one of his patented eight-foot floaters.

Entering his junior season with talented new teammates at his disposal, Hickey was committed to conforming his play to that of a more traditional point guard, by looking for the pass first. But after Hickey attempted just seven total shots despite being on the court for 37 minutes in a 91-78 loss at Georgia, LSU coach Johnny Jones sat down with Hickey in hopes of getting more out of his starter.

“Me and coach had a talk and I’ve got to get better at what I need to do,” said Hickey. “That is to run the team, run the show.”

That opportunity came as quickly as the following Saturday, when Auburn came into Baton Rouge with a game plan to stymie LSU’s two leading scorers, Jordan Mickey and Johnny O’Bryant III.

Using a 2-3 zone defense, a host of Auburn players would converge on O’Bryant III or Mickey every time they received the ball near the basket.

“Early on when I touched the ball, it just seemed like I couldn’t even breathe,” O’Bryant III explained. “I couldn’t put the ball down, I couldn’t pivot, I couldn’t do anything.”

For Auburn, the plan to beat the two LSU big men down low was working like a charm, as they quickly jumped out to 13-5 lead within the game’s first seven minutes, while LSU could not seem to find any high-percentage shots. While effective, Auburn’s compacting defense was basically daring Hickey to shoot the ball from the outside.

Realizing that in order to win, he would need to score, Hickey took his first shot of the game at the 13:32 mark, drilling a three-pointer from the corner.

“We weren’t playing our best basketball in the first half,” he said. “They were doubling down low and opening up the perimeter so I just had to make plays.”

With that made basket, things suddenly became less congested on the offensive end for LSU, and the Tigers ignited 17-6, going into the halftime break down by just a point.

“It was important for Anthony to hit those shots and stretch the defense out,” O’Bryant III said. “Once he did that, things really opened up for me and Jordan.”

Hickey kept his sharpshooting mentality at the start of the second half with two more three-pointers within the first three minutes. With Auburn now preoccupied with guarding the junior point guard, O’Bryant III and Mickey were able to go to work.

The frontcourt duo combined for 33 points and 20 rebounds as LSU grabbed the lead for good early in the second half, then finished off Auburn with an 87-80 win.

Hickey completed the game with 18 points – all of it coming from behind the three-point line.

“It takes a lot of pressure off of Johnny and Jordan if the shots are going in from the perimeter,” said Hickey, who bumped his season average up to 9.0 points per game to go along with team-high 3.4 assists per game. “We were lighting it up from outside and it was able to take pressure off of Johnny and Jordan.”

But while O’Bryant III finished the game as LSU’s leading scorer, all he could talk about was how much of a difference Hickey made, leading the Tigers’ to their sixth conference win and their eleventh win at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

“Anthony is a great three point shooter,” O’Bryant said of Hickey. “He did a great job in stepping up when his number was called and knocked his shots down.”

Jones echoed those sentiments.

“We know that Anthony is a very capable shooter out there,” he explained. “A lot of times, teams are going to play percentages and try to pick and choose who to guard. Hickey certainly has the ability to make them pay.”

Hickey and the Tigers find themselves sitting squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but with a résumé that lacks a second marquee win and that is hampered by a couple of underwhelming losses. In LSU’s four Southeastern Conference road games, a win at South Carolina has been the lone positive result. And, with nine games left in the season, the Tigers will have to leave Baton Rouge for five of them, starting with Wednesday’s 8 p.m. matchup against Texas A&M.

This does not frighten Hickey in the slightest. He saw something in the offense against Auburn that he believes will remain going forward.

“We can be real dangerous when everything is clicking,” he said. “Sometimes we are going to miss those shots but it’s important to keep taking them to keep the balance.”

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