Freshmen lead LSU men past UAB

Jarell Martin darted down the left wing in transition and flashed a knowing glance behind to Tim Quarterman.

Barely a step over half-court, Quarterman floated a lob toward the rim. A step outside the lane, Martin lifted off and snared the ball before mashing down the alley-oop in an 86-63 victory over UAB on Saturday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Four days after the pair struggled in a win at Texas Tech, Martin and Quarterman buoyed a potent attack as the Tigers (8-2) built a 16-point halftime lead and never allowed the Blazers (9-3) to cut the edge below double digits the rest of the way.

“It felt good,” Martin said. “I came out with a mindset that I’m going to try and do everything.”

Sure, Johnny O’Bryant III scored 17 points, and Jordan Mickey chipped in 12 points and six rebounds in what have become ho-hum efforts.

Yet it was the 12 points from Martin and a career-high nine assists from Quarterman — running the point with Anthony Hickey mired in foul trouble — that qualified as breakout nights.

“Both are going to go through what freshmen go through,” coach Johnny Jones said. “They showed tonight what they’re capable of doing. They didn’t really force the action. They let the action come to them.”

For Martin, who has battled a nagging high-ankle sprain, he finally found the form he displayed at the Old Spice Classic before tweaking the injury in an overtime victory against Butler.

“He just needed that good breakout game,” Mickey said. “You could tell he was close.”

It took only 80 seconds Saturday to slough off the frustration and doubt that had become ingrained in the past two weeks when Martin canned a 3-pointer at the top of the arc.

Four minutes later, he buried another jumper off the left wing to make it 15-8 with 16:12 left until halftime. Finally, after Quarterman knifed into UAB’s zone defense for a kick-out, the 6-foot-9, 241-pounder splashed through a 3-pointer on the left wing for a 22-11 lead to finish a 9-3 spurt.

It was a critical dish for Quarterman, who entered the game five minutes after starter Hickey, who only logged 18 minutes, committed his second foul.

At points, Quarterman has appeared tentative or too deferential in trying to involve his teammates. But in the face of the Blazers’ zone and an up-and-down tempo, he thrived early by racking up three assists the first minute he was on the floor.

“They were kind of backing off me, and I was going at them,” he said. “When they got in the (zone), it was just passing the ball and facilitating ball movement.”

It might have been the Tigers’ best half of the season. They shot 51.3 percent, doled out 14 assists and closed the final five minutes on a 10-4 run capped by a Stringer 3-pointer with 43 seconds left to enter the locker room leading 49-33.

“Our guys did an excellent job punching the clock when they got here,” Jones said.

UAB had ample chances to carve into the lead after halftime. The Blazers pounded the Tigers on the offensive glass, amassing a 16-5 edge, but only turned those second chances into nine points. Despite LSU slogging through a roughly three-minute scoring drought to open the half, UAB only cut the deficit to 52-39 with 16:02 left and shot just 18.4 percent in the second half.

“That’s a huge credit to our guys of what they did defensively,” Jones said. “That’s an area we’ve got to clean up. You’ve got to play every second of every play.”

Guard Chad Frazier paced UAB, which shot 30.4 percent, with 15 points, while forward C.J. Washington added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Center Fahro Alihodzic chipped in 12 points and six rebounds.

It was O’Bryant who buoyed a stagnant Tigers offense. The junior racked up LSU’s first nine points in the opening eight minutes of the second half until Mickey hit a jumper at the elbow with a little less than 11 minutes to play for a 60-48 lead.

“I get the ball a lot on the post, and my job is to produce at all means,” O’Bryant said. “If my team needs buckets, it’s my job to go get them.”

Yet it was Quarterman’s understated asset that keyed a 12-3 run over three minutes, burying a 3 at the top of the key and hitting a floater in transition with roughly seven minutes to go as LSU expanded its lead to 72-53.

All the while, the Tigers flashed a glimpse at the product Jones had intended with three prodigious freshmen on the floor.

“We’ve been in the gym a lot for the past couple days,” Quarterman said. “We’ve been in the gym almost 24 hours (a day), just working hard and building on that chemistry. You can see that now.”