The scene Thursday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center must have been what Johnny Jones envisioned when he was introduced as LSU’s basketball coach seven months ago.
Or when he rested his head at night, dreaming of the day he’d land his dream job.
The PMAC crowd rocked as LSU turned Seton Hall turnovers into instant offense, coming all the way back from 16 points down early in the second half to lock up a 72-67 victory. When it was over, Jones joined his players in front of the student section and reached out to thank the “Maravich Maniacs” for the part they played.
“I really loved being in here tonight and seeing our student section engaged,” Jones said. “I thought the fan base was really up and on their feet, especially there in the second half. That’s what we’ve got to continue to do. I hope they liked our style of play and what they saw tonight and the effort of our kids.”
Facing its first opponent from a BCS-level conference, LSU (5-0) used the come-from-behind win to cap a perfect November, keeping alive the best start by the program in four seasons.
The Tigers had 15 steals and forced 26 turnovers, relying on a full-court press to get back in a game they led only once (at 1-0) until the final minutes.
“We were just going to keep fighting,” sophomore Johnny O’Bryant said. “We gutted it out and got the win.”
On the same night the New Orleans Saints faced the Atlanta Falcons while looking to keep their postseason hopes alive, the sports fans in south Louisiana who headed for the PMAC got a much better show than the ones who stayed home to watch the Saints sputter to a loss. Fans of LSU basketball also left Thursday’s game with reason to believe in more nights like these.
The Tigers were picked to finish 11th in the Southeastern Conference. They have only four players who measure 6-foot-8 or taller and carry only 11 scholarship players on the 14-man roster. They will be at a disadvantage in the post just about every time they take the court in conference play. They may lack the depth to run and gun.
But Anthony Hickey has been given a chance to show off his quickness and playmaking ability in Jones’ up-tempo offense. And O’Bryant, who brings the Tigers toughness down low and a sweet little jump shot from 15 feet, is consistently playing like the five-star recruit who signed with LSU two years ago.
Junior-college transfer Shavon Coleman leads the team in scoring despite often playing out of position and off the bench. Memphis transfer Charles Carmouche is a team leader despite being new to the program. Even former LSU tuba player Andrew Del Piero, who got his first career start Thursday after playing all of 12 minutes last season, is looking like a viable option.
But the main reason things are looking up at the PMAC is the man who removed his sports coat in the second half against Seton Hall and made an in-game adjustment that changed the outcome.
Jones proved he could recruit when he signed a recruiting class ranked among the nation’s top 10 last month, and he has proved time and again he can connect with his alma mater’s fan base.
Thursday was proof the former LSU guard can coach. Just when it looked like Seton Hall might run away with a lopsided victory, Jones put the full-court press in motion, triggering a 20-4 run that turned LSU’s home arena into a noisy wave of momentum.
Turnovers piled up. The players fed off the crowd. The crowd fed off the players.
The Tigers took the lead for good at 65-64 on a Coleman jumper with 2:16 left, then went 7-of-8 from the free-throw line to keep Seton Hall at bay.
Afterward, Jones had but one request.
“What we need our fans to do is, the ones who were here tonight, make sure that they bring somebody with them the next game so our crowds can continue to grow,” he said.
After the show LSU put on Thursday night, you have to believe they will.
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