The LSU basketball team faced Arkansas-Monticello in a preseason exhibition Monday night, the first such game the Tigers have played since the start of the 2007-08 season.
For the players on the floor, it was a chance to face an opponent other than themselves and work out some kinks before Friday’s regular-season opener.
For first-year coach Johnny Jones, it was a time — the one time — to soak it all in.
The glorified dress rehearsal before 1,454 unpaid fans won’t be remembered by most who witnessed it.
But Jones had spent much of his adult life eying the day he’d lead the Tigers onto the floor where he spent four years as a player and 13 more as an assistant.
Though the sluggish 82-66 victory included little drama, fanfare or meaning, Jones said the night was one filled with emotions.
“Having an opportunity to walk out there and realizing exactly where I was and being the head coach here, I went through some emotions, but I tried to focus and do the same things I ask our team to do,” Jones said. “I was definitely filled with emotion. I think I needed this game as much as our guys did tonight. It wasn’t actually a real game, but I had to get this one in as well to get my emotions out.”
Jones can now turn his focus to fixing some of the problems LSU had in failing to pull away from its Division II opponent.
The Tigers trailed for only 14 seconds all night, but they waited until the game’s final six minutes to take their first double-digit lead.
Twenty-one turnovers helped keep in contention a team that lost to Louisiana Tech by 28 in an earlier exhibition.
LSU played without sophomore point guard Anthony Hickey and freshman forward Shane Hammink, who served a one-game suspension for discipline-related issues.
Jones said both will be back for Friday’s opener against UC Santa Barbara at the PMAC.
“I think one of the things is I’m all about guys taking care of their business on and off the floor, all of the time and not just some of the time,” Jones said.“I want to make sure we send that message loud and clear.”
A pair of newcomers — Charles Carmouche and Malik Morgan — helped take up the slack.
Carmouche had 19 points in his first game since transferring from Memphis, a performance highlighted by his 2-for-5 showing from 3-point range and a pair of second-half dunks.
Morgan, fresh off leading John Curtis to last year’s Class 2A state title, made the first two shots of his unofficial debut in route to 18 points off the bench.
Sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
But Arkansas-Monticello was within 31-27 at halftime. Kori Forge finished with 20 points to lead all scorers.
“We just had that feeling that we are a very well-conditioned team,” LSU forward Eddie Ludwig said. “We wanted to wear them out in the second half.”
Carmouche said the lack of execution — especially early — was to be expected.
“We got the bugs out,” he said.
The first of Carmouche’s two 3-pointers put LSU up 64-52 with 5:50 left for its first double-digit lead. The second pushed the lead to 74-58 with 3:15 to go.
“I was glad to really get an opportunity to get under the lights and have an opportunity to play an exhibition against, obviously, a different team with the fans in there to see how our guys were going to react for that first time,” Jones said.
Now it’s on to Friday night and the official start of a new season.
The official start of a new era.