Kennesaw St.-LSU Preview
Ben Simmons is quick to remind everyone that he's not the only LSU freshman who should be receiving praise.
The 23rd-ranked Tigers look for another solid effort from its trio of heralded newcomers when they host Kennesaw State on Monday night as part of the Legends Classic.
Simmons, the top-ranked player coming out of high school and widely considered to be the No. 1 pick in next year's NBA draft, had an impressive debut Friday, showing off his well-rounded game with 11 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in an 81-70 victory over McNeese State.
The 6-foot-10 forward added highlights to what's sure to be an entertaining reel by season's end, but his fellow freshman teammates stepped up as well. Antonio Blakeney finished with 22 points and 10 boards, while Brandon Sampson went 4 of 6 from 3-point range and scored 18.
Sampson wasn't projected to start upon arrival, but he made his case to be in that role until at least mid-December, when Keith Hornsby is expected to have recovered from a medical procedure.
''I'm glad that Antonio and Brandon are here because none of this hype would happen without them,'' Simmons said. ''We are getting better every day on the floor. We have a long season ahead and we are going to keep getting better every day.''
Although Simmons receives most of the attention, Blakeney also was a top-20 recruit and had offers from around the country. The two helped coach Johnny Jones bring in his best class to date.
''I really wanted to come out and focus on defense and rebounding,'' Blakeney said. ''My teammates and coaches believe in me to make plays and that's what I did."
Blakeney could have his hands full defensively if he's matched up with All-Atlantic Sun guard Yonel Brown in this contest. Brown played the entire game and scored 34 points while grabbing 10 rebounds Saturday, but the Owls fell 77-64 at Alabama in their season opener.
The 5-foot-9 senior led Kennesaw State in scoring last season at 15.2 points per game.
''We keep the ball in his hands a lot,'' first-year coach Al Skinner said. ''He kind of got it going a little bit so he probably shot the ball a little bit more than he normally would have.''
The Owls were likely hoping for more out of Kendrick Ray, who made his team debut after sitting out a year due to his transfer from Quinnipiac. Ray finished with 17 points, but he shot just 4 of 16 from the field and committed a pair of turnovers.
Kennesaw State turned the ball over 16 times and shot just 34.5 percent from the floor, assisting on only six of 19 baskets.
"In the first half, a lot of our turnovers led to run-outs for them and gave them good opportunities," Skinner said. "I thought in the second half we did a little bit better of a job of taking care of the basketball and preventing those run-outs. In that first eight minutes, we had first-game jitters. It took us a little while to settle down."
This first-ever meeting between the schools is part of the regional rounds of the Legends Classic taking place Nov. 23 and 24 at Barclays Center. LSU faces Marquette and North Carolina State plays Arizona State, with the winners meeting in the championship.
The Owls play at Arizona State on Wednesday.