Tim Quarterman keeping cool as SEC heats up

Figuring out if Tim Quarterman was relaxed on Monday was easy.

Out in front of the LSU basketball practice facility, the point guard rode his bike around the parking lot an hour before the Tigers’ scheduled workout. Facing backward. And perched on the handle bars.

So, were the sinewy Quarterman’s happy antics a spill over from a solid game Saturday against Vanderbilt? Or is the freshman always at ease?

“That’s just him,” senior guard Anthony Hickey said. “He’s always had that confidence.”

With Missouri (14-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) arriving Tuesday night, LSU (11-5, 2-2) would love to see Quarterman and fellow freshmen Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin carry over the same feeling from a 23-point rout in which each carved out a supporting but vital role for the Tigers.

Inside, Mickey scored 13 points to bolster a breakout night from Johnny O’Bryant III, while Martin supplied 11 points and five rebounds in a newly minted reserve role.

And Quarterman, coming off a forgettable trip to Ole Miss, ably piloted the offense, grabbed eight rebounds and stymied Vandy’s slashing guard, Kyle Fuller.

Netting contributions from the three ballyhooed newcomers, all of whom were top-100 recruits, has been a common theme in the Tigers’ best outings against Alabama-Birmingham and Vandy.

Now the question is whether LSU can rely on them consistently moving into a tough three-game stretch against Mizzou, on Saturday at Alabama, and with No. 13 Kentucky visiting Baton Rouge a week from now.

“When you have freshmen that you’re counting on, which we do heavily, you have to expect that there are going to be some mistakes,” Jones said. ‘It’s nothing different than some of the upperclassmen. We like the growth of our freshmen.”

The quick ascent of Mickey, who is averaging 13.1 points and 6.9 rebounds, has been clear.

Equally, too, were the stilted beginnings for Martin and Quarterman.

First, the high-ankle sprain he suffered at Massachusetts in the season-opener effectively cost him three games. Tweaking it against Butler led him to sit during certain contact portions of practice. Finally, there was the nonconference experiment of moving him to small forward.

Yet the decision after a blow out loss to Tennessee to platoon Martin off the bench and at his more natural power forward spot has reaped early dividends with 14.3 points and six rebounds per game since the switch.

“Jarell has done a tremendous job of adapting,” Jones said. “When he was on the perimeter, sometimes as a defender he may have gotten caught out of position at times. But I think because of his offensive abilities, he’s been a tougher match-up for opponent’s power forwards.”

Quarterman, though, has been in a bind where he’s behind a more experienced veteran in Anthony Hickey. If you strip out his nine assists against UAB, he’s averaging just 1.3 assists per game while accounting for 25.5 percent of LSU’s turnovers when he’s on the floor.

No one is looking more to throw a lob than Quarterman, a penchant he needs to check at certain points, but a lesson he still keenly grasps.

“Once you mess it up a couple of times around here, you know not to do it again,” Hickey said.

Quarterman’s approach hasn’t changed, either.

He still sidles up to Hickey and Stringer in practice with questions, and Stringer said Jones is clear in what he demands. Quarterman, too, can remain among the louder voices on the floor.

“Making sure my teammates have trust in me,” Quarterman said of his chief task. “They need to hear me. I’m just a freshman, but I need to be vocal, and (being loud) doesn’t really mean anything to me. They need to trust me.”

Outings like Saturday — where he was a stalwart among productive rotations that included Stringer and Martin — help.

Meanwhile, Jones rotated Shavon Coleman and Malik Morgan in at small forward, while Mickey and O’Bryant swapped in and out next to Martin. In nine minutes, the setup helped LSU outscore Vandy 24-6.

But what kept Quarterman on the floor was his locking down on Fuller, who scored just six points, and limiting the Vandy point guard to one assist. There’s also the fact that his length at 6-foot-6 allows him to guard three spots when switching on screens, Jones said.

“He was really good,” Jones said. “Tim did an excellent job of playing, moving his feet, keeping him centered, making him play over the top, and Tim is a bigger target to try to play over the top of.”

Adapting is the common link between Mickey, Martin and Quarterman.

For Mickey it’s gone from scoring, which is down to just 10.5 points per game in SEC play, to rebounding and using his shot-blocking ability as a deterrent at the rim.

For Martin, scoring now is initiated less off powerful drives from the wing and more about cleaning up misses in the lane, while Quarterman can see his minutes climb by defending and mastering the nuances of spacing and late-clock situations in the half court.

“Losses make us understand that we have to do those things,” Martin said. “We have to rebound, defend and make small plays.”