When the LSU men's basketball team returned from the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in late November, the Tigers quietly -- very quietly -- began preparing for the Revenge Tour 2016.
That was the only way to describe three of their games in a five-game stretch leading up to the Christmas break against teams that handed them damaging losses a year ago -- Houston, College of Charleston and Wake Forest -- vanquishing their NCAA tournament hopes.
Fast forward to this year and the rematches with that trio.An inspired LSU team crushed Houston 84-65 on Nov. 29, then took care of Charleston 75-65 on Monday night -- leaving LSU a date with Wake Forest at 8 p.m. Thursday in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to complete its task.
"Those were 'get-back' games," said guard Antonio Blakeley, LSU's leading scorer this season at 15.9 points per game. "This next one is a 'get-back' game, too. The revenge tour, that's what you can call it."
After losing to Houston and Charleston on the road last season, LSU fell to Wake Forest 77-71 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
It was a devastating loss against a team that went on win just 11 games and wind up in 12th place in the 14-team Atlantic Coast Conference. It also came four days before the Tigers' Southeastern Conference opener, making it even tougher to swallow.
"It would be nice and it would be at their place, too," Tigers forward Craig Victor said of trying to avenge another defeat from a year ago. "We had that loss in our home, and coach (Johnny Jones) wasn't too happy about it.
"I guess we've been out for revenge the last couple of games, but we would like to come away with another one," he said.
Indeed, only Wake Forest (8-3) stands in the way of LSU (8-2) completing a clean three-game sweep of the teams that got them last year, although this one could be the most difficult.
The Demon Deacons have an official NCAA RPI of 19 and are 20th in the ESPN list after two of their three setbacks were to top-ranked Villanova (96-77) and No. 17 Xavier (69-65) in their most recent outing Saturday.
"These guys have done a great job so far this year, and we know it will be a tough challenge, but it's one we're looking forward to," Jones said. "We're going on the road against a team from another conference, and we feel they have an opportunity to compete in the upper half of their division.
"It's going to be a great challenge for us, and I think it's an excellent game for us prior to getting into conference play."
A big part of the challenge for LSU will be in trying to contain point guard Bryant Crawford, who averages 13.7 points and 5.8 assists per game, after scoring 19 points in the stunner against the Tigers last December.
Also, 6-foot-10 forward John Collins gets 17.5 points and 10.8 rebounds an outing and teams with 6-10 forward Dinos Mitoglou, who averages 9.8 points and 6.5 rebounds, to form an imposing front line to challenge Duop Reath and Victor.
LSU, however, has been up to the challenge -- particularly in putting together a four-game winning streak since returning from the Bahamas.
After blasting Houston, the Tigers' past three games against North Carolina Central, Texas Southern and Charleston have all gone down to the final minute before the Tigers prevailed.
Both Blakeney and Victor said being able to hang on and get wins while being challenged should be a help, especially in their first true road game of the season at Wake Forest.
"I think being challenged like that is definitely important, because going into conference, that can happen night in and night out," Blakeney said. "You have to try to finish those games where it's going back and forth. When you don't know who's going to win, it could come down to a free throw or a box-out."
In Monday night's game, LSU needed a 10-0 surge in the final 89 seconds to snap a 65-65 tie with Charleston and record the victory.
"A win is a win, but it's different with this team because last year we weren't finishing games like that," Victor said. "Just to know the maturity level of this team and the responsibility we're taking to finish games is a testament to the guys we have in that locker room."
- After shooting 62.2 percent from the free-throw line in November, LSU has improved as a team to 71.7 percent in three December games.
- LSU coach Johnny Jones is 36-3 in nonconference home games with Wake Forest hanging one of the losses on him last Dec. 29 (77-71).
- The game will mark LSU's first visit to the Wake Forest campus after they met in the Sugar Bowl Classic in 1981 and at LSU a year ago.
This article is written by Sheldon Mickles from The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.