BY SCOTT HOTARD
November 17, 2012
The LSU men’s basketball team hits the court Tuesday night against McNeese State having overcome the loss of star big man Johnny O’Bryant to win Friday’s opening game of the Johnny Jones era.
It is likely O’Bryant, who left the opener with less than eight minutes to play in the first half with an injury to his lower left leg, will remain sidelined when the Tigers tip off at 7 p.m. to continue a five-game homestand to start the season.
O’Bryant wore a protective boot on his left foot as he entered LSU’s practice facility Monday afternoon.
“Until someone tells me different, it would be tough to say if we’ll have him available Tuesday,” said Jones, whose Tigers beat UC Santa Barbara 77-63 in his debut. “I think it would be a long shot for that to happen.”
The good news for the Tigers (1-0) is that O’Bryant, a five-star recruit out of Mississippi two years ago who earned a spot on the coaches’ preseason All-Southeastern Conference second team, is not expected to miss extensive time because of the injury.
The other good news, Jones said, is that reserves like junior forward Jalen Courtney will see more extensive action.
Junior Shavan Coleman, a 6-foot-5 guard/forward, will likely start alongside senior Eddie Ludwig in the post. Courtney and senior center Andrew Del Piero, a former walk-on, are the only bench players who have experience playing down low.
“The bright side is that the people we have available will probably play more minutes and play quality minutes,” Jones said. “We’re going to have to go to those guys. We need to see exactly how those guys will be able to respond in these situations.”
O’Bryant began his sophomore season with a bang, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in 11 minutes.
His injury reduced the Tigers to a small lineup that often included only one player taller than 6-5, but the Tigers still managed to build a lead of 21 points in the final minutes. They finished with 41 rebounds, one more than UC Santa Barbara.
“We can’t pout,” LSU point guard Anthony Hickey said. “We’ve got to keep it moving. We just look at it like Johnny’s on the bench right now with foul trouble. We look forward to him coming back, but we’ve got to keep this train moving.”
LSU faces a McNeese State team that played without its top two big men, both injured, in a 72-54 victory over Louisiana College on Friday.
The Cowboys (1-0) still had 40 points in the paint. But they were outrebounded 34-31.
LSU is meeting McNeese for the 21st time and will look to stay unbeaten in the series.
But it could be the last time the Tigers see the Cowboys for a while.
Jones and McNeese State coach Dave Simmons both hail from DeRidder and were high-school teammates when Jones was a freshman and Simmons was a senior. Jones said after Simmons left for Louisiana Tech, he took his old teammate’s number 12 at DeRidder because he wanted to follow in the fellow point guard’s footsteps.
This, however, will be the first time the two have crossed paths as head coaches.
Jones, who inherited his first LSU schedule from former coach Trent Johnson, said neither coach ever wanted to play the other.
“We’ve always talked about who would win if we did play,” Jones said with a laugh. “But we’ve never played.”
Two years after leading McNeese to the Southland Conference regular-season title and an NIT berth, Simmons will look to lead the Cowboys to one of the bigger victories in program history.
Jones said it will take a team effort from the Tigers. Especially if O’Bryant can’t go.
“When I took this job, I knew I was coming here to make sure we built a winning program — not just a winning team,” Jones said. “It’s important you do it the right way. Johnny could have a future (in basketball) like anybody else, so we want to make sure we do the right things by him.”
Tuesday’s game will be the first of the Student Point Nights for LSU students to earn points for attending the game. LSU students receive free admission with a valid LSU ID.
Also, fans who attended the Mississippi State football game on Saturday can show their ticket at the ticket windows Tuesday and purchase a ticket for the basketball game at the discounted rate of $5.
CALDWELL, JONES TO SPEAK AT LUNCHEON: LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell will be the guest speaker Wednesday when she joins men’s coach Johnny Jones at the November edition of the “Tipoff Lunch With Johnny Jones” at the L’Auberge Resort.
The luncheon buffet is open to the public at 11:30 a.m., and the program will begin at noon.
Caldwell will talk about her team’s season-opening win over Wichita State and her upcoming road trip, while Jones will discuss his team’s first two games with UCSB and McNeese State.
WOMEN’S FINAL FOUR TICKETS ON SALE: Individual all-session tickets to the 2013 NCAA Women’s Final Four in New Orleans are now available on-line by logging on to www.NCAA.com/tickets.
All-session tickets will enable the ticket holder to watch the two national semifinal games, and the championship game. All games will be played at New Orleans Arena.