By: Chris Dortch
SEC Digital Network
NASHVILLE — When college basketball advances to postseason tournament play, convention is sometimes tossed aside in favor of doing whatever it takes to win.
So it was when LSU played Georgia in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday. Coach Johnny Jones had gotten a lot of mileage with a consistent starting lineup, but to compete against the Bulldogs, a change was in order. In place of Andrew Del Piero, the 7-foot-2 senior, Jones inserted 6-5 junior Shavon Coleman.
“[Georgia] is extremely quick, great post player,” Jones said. “We were hoping we could get some driving lanes to the basket, and I think that Shavon allowed us to do that.”
He did that, and a lot more, in LSU’s 68-63 win. To say Coleman’s team-high 24 points were unexpected, well, in his previous four games, Coleman scored 24 points and hit just 6 of 21 shots. Not since Feb. 16 had Coleman made a 3-pointer.
Imagine Georgia’s surprise when Coleman drained a 3 that gave the Tigers a 9-4 lead. And if the Bulldogs were surprised at that shot, they were stunned when Coleman tossed in another 3 47 seconds later. He finished the day 9 of 11 from the field and 4 of 5 from behind the arc.
“They decided not to guard [Coleman shooting the 3],” LSU assistant coach Robert Kirby said. “And if you looked at his stats the last couple of ball games, you wouldn’t guard it.”
“It’s not something he was doing earlier in the year,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “That’s a big difference. He can space the floor like that, that’s a big difference. They’ve got more guys that can shoot the ball.”
No one, not even in the LSU camp, would call Coleman a shooter. But he is a slasher, a utility guy, a provider of energy who made a quick impact this season after transferring from junior college.
“He’s one of those guys that plays with a lot of energy,” Kirby said, “and he creates opportunities for himself. Early in the year, we didn’t run any plays for him, but he led us in scoring and rebounding because he’s always around the ball.”
Once LSU opponents figured out what Coleman could do, his offensive numbers faded a bit. But that didn’t bother him.
“[There are] different things I can do to help my team win, like rebounding, defense, things like that,” Coleman said.
Even Coleman would say that making 3s wasn’t necessarily in his job description. But give him credit for taking what he was given.
“I just had the hot hand,” Coleman said, “and the team just kept coming to me.”
Jones encourages his players to make plays when they get opportunities.
“We actually have a three man that’s we’ve kind of converted to a four,” Jones said. “We look for him to play more inside. [But] we know he’s very capable out there. We allow him to stretch out there a little bit in games and take one or two [3s] to try to loosen the defense inside, and tonight we were fortunate that he was able to get into a rhythm, knocked a couple down and became confident out there and made big plays.”