Johnny O’Bryant answers wake-up call in LSU’s win over Vandy

Johnny O’Bryant III was tired.

After losses, sleep is elusive. And boarding a charter flight home three days ago after letting a late lead evaporate in overtime at Ole Miss gnawed at the junior forward.

Over the two days before LSU’s 81-58 thumping of Vanderbilt on Saturday night, he didn’t seem to be the bruiser the Tigers needed in the lane.

Instead, he saw snippets of a guy playing with hesitation. A big man more intent on deferring than dominating. No, O’Bryant didn’t see himself.

Perhaps the first hint of a night when he racked up 22 points and yanked down 12 rebounds came when he slung teammate Jarell Martin to the ground in a rebounding drill.

Or how he calmly told coach Johnny Jones in a side conversation before warm-ups that he was ready to find old form.

“We need you tonight,” O’Bryant said, summing up Jones’ message. “We really need you.”

Objective achieved.

Starting with a layup initiated by driving his shoulder into James Siakam’s chest, O’Bryant asserted control barely a minute into a game that kept LSU (11-5, 2-2) from sliding farther back in the tight Southeastern Conference pack.

Three minutes later, he knocked down a jumper at the elbow, and on the next trip he sank a pair of free throws to initiate a 10-0 run that gave LSU a 19-11 lead.

At one point, O’Bryant had more rebounds than the entire roster for Vandy (9-7, 1-3). And with barely 19 seconds left in the first half, he pulled down a rebound to secure a double-double — all before heading to the locker room for halftime.

“I was taking my time, posting hard, going to the rim like a mad man, trying to get offensive rebounds,” he said. “Just trying to give my team as much energy.”

And it couldn’t have been more timely for LSU with looming tests in the next two weeks against Missouri and Kentucky.

The Tigers, who shot 48.3 percent, employed brute force to subdue Vandy (9-7, 1-3) in front of 9,716 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Forward Jordan Mickey added 13 points and five rebounds for LSU, which amassed a 40-24 edge on scoring in the paint. They dutifully heeded Jones’ call to dominate the rebounding column, too.

Actually, emphatically might be better a word.

LSU’s 48-24 rebounding margin tied its largest edge of the season, including a galling plus-10 edge on the offensive glass that led to 24 second-chance points.

“We’ve been spectators too much,” Mickey said. “We needed to go out and hit them first.”

And it was the biggest disparity suffered by Vanderbilt, which was outrebounded by 13 against Kentucky last week.

“Obviously, I am very disappointed,” Commodores coach Kevin Stallings said. “It is quite disturbing to get beat that badly on the boards.”

Vandy, which shot just 35.8 percent, had its plight compounded by clanking all but 5 of 20 shots hoisted up from behind the 3-point arc.

Rod Odom scored 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Freshman forward and Baton Rouge native Damian Jones scored 16 points to go with six rebounds.

After blowing a four-point lead in the final 82 seconds Wednesday, LSU nixed any drama after taking a 35-25 lead into the locker room.

A 15-3 run over five minutes stretched a 10-point lead to 67-45 with 6:58 left, a burst capped by a Malik Morgan 3-pointer from the left corner.

Walloping Vandy, which entered with just seven scholarship players, might be LSU’s tonic at just the right time.

For the past month, O’Bryant looked listless. A little too passive to be the main cog in an offense routed through low block.

“We’ve got such great shooters,” O’Bryant said. “Sometimes, I can just wait on that double team and kick it out for an easy 3. I’d started to rely too much on that.”

On Wednesday, their star big man cratered with a two-point outing, when he was just 1-of-5 from the floor with five rebounds.

In meetings with Jones and the rest of the staff, the emphasis was psychological.

“Nothing more,” Jones said. “Tonight, he didn’t allow the last game to bother him. He came out focused tonight and continued to play.”

Vanderbilt decided to deploy solo coverage on O’Bryant early. Instead of waiting for double teams to arrive and taking on the role of distributor, O’Bryant put his head down.

“Every time I touched it tonight, I went quick,” he said.

Perhaps falling asleep will come a little more quickly, too.

“Definitely,” he said. “Definitely, definitely.”