By BRYAN LAZARE
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) ANTONIO BLAKENEY scored 23 points as LSU pulled away in the second half for an 84-65 non-conference victory over Houston on Tuesday.
Blakeney, whose fast-break layup with one second remaining gave the Tigers a 39-38 halftime advantage and led an 8-0 run which enabled LSU (5-2) to take control of the game early in the second half. Blakeney made two baskets, one a 3-pointer, as the Tigers went ahead 53-42 with 15:50 to play. Houston (5-1) did not trail by fewer than nine points the rest of the way.
Blakeney scored 14 points, hitting a season-high 10 field goals, and grabbed five of his eight rebounds in the second half.
“In the second half, we did a great job executing offensively,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “On the defensive end, we were getting stops. As the game continued, our guys did a tremendous job competing at a high level against one of the better teams we will face prior to conference.”
LSU shot 50 percent from the field (36-of-72), including 44 percent on 3-pointers (8-of-18). But, the difference in the game was on the backboards, where the Tigers outrebounded the Cougars 46-28. LSU turned 20 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points.
“Winning the war on the boards and getting second-chance points was a focus,” Blakeney said. “That’s why coach (Jones) started sending me to the glass.
“Craig (Victor) and all the bigs were trying to get rebounds because we got beat on the boards in the Bahamas. We were just trying to correct our mistakes.”
Three LSU players besides Blakeney scored in double figures. BRANDON SAMPSON had 16 points, all but two in the first half. Victor had 13 points and nine rebounds in his first start of the year. AARON EPPS, who was replaced by Victor in the lineup, had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Rob Gray was the top scorer for Houston with 19 points. Damyean Dotson added 13 points, while Devin Davis had 12. The Cougars were badly beaten inside as they were outscored 46-26 in the paint.
“We didn’t play very well at all in any area in the first half, but we had a chance to get the lead,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “I didn’t see a lot of pop tonight. Their size was a factor. We had three starters who did not get a defensive rebound. We have to be a rebounding team.”
LSU: The Tigers, who lost two of three games last week at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, remained unbeaten at home with their fourth straight victory. LSU, which blocked nine shots and made seven steals, lost 105-98 in overtime at Houston last season.
HOUSTON: The Cougars failed in their attempt to open a season 6-0 for just the fourth time in school history. Houston was badly beaten in its first true road game of the season.
HUGE STAT NIGHTS
LSU’s Craig Victor was suspended from the team for the first three games of the season. Victor, a returning starter, came off the bench for all of the Tigers’ games in the Bahamas. Victor provided a spark in his first start – not only with his 13 points and nine rebounds, but also with a career-high four steals. Meanwhile, freshman point guard SKYLAR MAYS came off the bench to hand out 11 assists – the most for a LSU player in Johnny Jones’ five seasons as coach.
WHERE DID THE OFFENSE GO
Houston was no match inside for LSU, but the Cougars also struggled mightily with their shooting. Coming into Tuesday’s game, Houston was shooting 51 percent from the field, including 46 percent on 3-pointers. The Tigers held the Cougars to 40 percent from the field (21-of-52), including 29 percent on 3-pointers (5-of-17). Houston made just eight field goals in the second half.
KEEPING LSU ALIVE
The Tigers never trailed by more than four points in the first half. BRANDON SAMPSON was the player responsible for keeping LSU within striking distance of Houston. Sampson made five of his seven field goal attempts in the first half, including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers. Sampson made two of his 3-pointers in a 90-second stretch late in the first half when the Cougars had built leads of three and four points.
LSU: The Tigers will take a two-week break for semester exams before returning for a home game against North Carolina Central on Dec. 13.
HOUSTON: The Cougars play host to Prairie View on Saturday.