LSU Hoops will conclude Down Under Tour against Melbourne Saturday
MELBOURNE, VICTORIA, Australia – The highlight event of LSU’s Tour Down Under takes place Saturday night at the Hisense Arena at Melbourne Park as the LSU Tigers again face the CTI Melbourne United of the National Basketball League.
Tip time is just after 7 p.m. in Australia and 4 a.m. Saturday morning in the Central Time Zone. The teams will be meeting for the second time in 48 hours as LSU scored an impressive 97-89 win over United at the Dandenong Stadium outside Melbourne on Thursday night.
But that game was just an appetizer for a lot of people here as they get ready for what is being described as a celebration of basketball in Victoria as Melbourne United tries to rise back to its spot at the top of the NBL Ladder. With the help of corporate sponsors, the Victorian government and Basketball Victoria, the expenses for the game were paid and tickets for the contest were free through a lottery.
A reported 20,000 tickets were recorded by local fans and it should be a festive atmosphere in the 10,500-seat secondary arena next door to Rod Laver Arena on the grounds where the Australian Open Grand Slam Tennis Championship is conducted each year. With an AFL game earlier in the day also on the park grounds, the chances all the seats will be filled for the contest seem good.
LSU’s Australian connection of players Darcy Malone and Ben Simmons and Assistant Head Coach David Patrick joined with Melbourne player David Barlow, Basketball Victoria CEO Nick Honey and United GM Vince Crivelli for a photo op/media session outside Hisense Friday morning.
Melbourne may be stronger for Saturday’s rematch after resting Barlow, Chris Goulding and Nate Tomlinson in Thursday’s game. Barlow is a two-time Olympian from Melbourne who has 11 years of experience in pro basketball and made 55 three-pointers last season to lead the NBL.
Goulding is a 6-year veteran of pro ball and Tomlinson, from the University of Colorado, has 3 years in the NBL.
They will join the player who dominated the scoring on Thursday night for Melbourne, Todd Blanchfield who scored 34 points on 13-of-19 shooting, including 7-of-11 treys. Blanchfield averaged 14.6 points and 6.0 rebounds a year ago and was the NBL’s Most Improved Player for 2015.
LSU has shown the improvement you would expect in many aspects from game one thru Thursday night and the win over Melbourne has guaranteed a winning record for the Tigers on the tour. Six LSU players were in double figures with senior Keith Hornsby and freshman Ben Simmons getting 18 each (Simmons 7 assists), junior Tm Quarterman had 17 points (8 assists), freshman Brandon Sampson 15, sophomore Aaron Epps 13 and freshman Antonio Blakeney 10.
“I think we played really well (Thursday), said Blakeney, who is averaging 15 points and 6 rebounds through the four games. “This team (Melbourne) has been hyped up to us and Coach (Jones) told us this would be the best team that we would play and they were. The simple fact that they could create their own shot off the dribble, they were real crafty players. They could really play. They are pros. It was good that we were able to meet the challenge.”
Five LSU players are averaging scoring in double figures in this fast-paced pro style game here of 10-minute quarters, 24-second shot clock (14 reset on offensive rebounds) and two bonus free throws on the fifth foul of each quarter. Simmons is averaging 21 points, 8.5 rebounds with 24 assists, while Quarterman is at 18.5 points per game, 6.0 rebounds and 20 assists. Besides Blakeney, Hornsby is averaging 13 points and Sampson 11.5 a contest.
As a team, LSU is shooting 47.3 percent for the three games (147-of-311), compared to 42.5 percent for the opponents (119-of-280). Opponents have made six more treys (34-28) than LSU and the two games against Sydney and Melbourne have skewed the free throw difference as opponents in four games are 78-of-106 (73.6 percent) to LSU’s 50-of-78 (64.1%).
LSU has fouled 82 times in four games, compared to receiving 68 fouls. Opponents are averaging 26.5 attempts a game compared to LSU’s 19.5. LSU has a 63-52 assist to turnover margin, compared to 60-67 for the opponents.
Again, Saturday’s game will be the toughest one for the Tigers as this will truly be a pro-game atmosphere in an arena setting and while Simmons is one of the features of the night, this crowd may be more pro-Melbourne than Thursday’s at Dandenong, which was cheering LSU plays as much as Melbourne United scores.
“(Melbourne United is) a tough basketball team,” said Coach Johnny Jones. “They are one of the top pro league teams. They were minus a couple of their star players (Thursday), but I thought our guys have done a good job for being on the road and playing the number of games we have played in a short time and the amount of practices we have been able to have.”
It will be Saturday late morning’s shoot around before Coach Jones and staff probably finalizes a starting lineup for the game, but certainly Epps may be in line for continued playing time after his 20 minutes in the first Melbourne game that resulted in his 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting with a three-pointer and nine rebounds.
“I thought Aaron has shown throughout this trip that from year one to year two there have been some really good signs,” said Coach Jones. “I thought (Thursday) through a long stretch he played extremely well. He rebounded, defended well, ran the floor and knocked down some tough shots for us as well. It was a good solid night rebounding and defending. He was very active for us.”
The Tigers, following the game, will leave Melbourne early Sunday morning Australia time and will make connections in Sydney for the flight to Dallas. That flight is the longest regularly scheduled non-stop commercial flights in the world (8,577 miles). Because of the time changes, LSU will arrive Sunday afternoon and later that evening will flight from DFW to New Orleans.
Follow updates on Saturday’s game @LSUBasketball on Twitter and www.Facebook.com/LSUBasketball. Ticket information for the 2015-16 season can be found at LSUtix.net and LSU’s just released this week basketball schedule is available at LSUsports.net.