The LSU men’s basketball team had played stretches this season without Johnny O’Bryant or Anthony Hickey in uniform.
Friday night, the Tigers were without both.
Two of the team’s foremost offensive weapons wore warmups and sat on the bench as their teammates picked up the slack, running past Houston Baptist for a 75-58 victory at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“When you have distractions with the Johnny injury and Hickey not playing, I thought those guys did a great job of focusing and playing and not looking over their shoulders and getting off to a really good start in the game,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said.
O’Bryant, who missed a game-and-a-half earlier in the season because of a strained calf, sat this one out after again suffering an injury in LSU’s final outing before Christmas. Hickey watched as punishment for his latest in a string of off-court missteps.
But the Tigers (8-2) pushed on, jumping ahead 7-0 in the opening 1:14 and never allowing Houston Baptist (4-8) to even the score.
All nine of the scholarship players who dressed for LSU saw at least 13 minutes of action.
“We don’t want to be a team that relies on just two guys,” LSU guard Andre Stringer said. “Those guys have a lot of talent, but we have guys that play behind them and can do a lot of similar things.”
Stringer capped the best month of his college career with 11 points, matching Shavon Coleman and Jalen Courtney for a team high. It marked the fourth time in five December games the junior guard had at least a share of the team’s high-point total.
Coleman, making his second career start with O’Bryant sidelined, added 13 rebounds (and had four blocks) for his fourth double-double.
Courtney, who has been slowed at times by a knee injury, exemplified LSU’s balance on a night when seven Tigers finished with either 11 or nine points.
Tyler Russell had a game-high 15 points to lead Houston Baptist, followed by Caleb Crayton with 11. Both Russell and Crayton had eight rebounds.
“We were very proud to see Jalen and everyone on the team have a good game tonight,” Coleman said. “It showed what they are capable of doing. We all know they can get the job done. When it’s their time, they have to come out and perform like they did tonight.”
Bound for the Southland Conference after one more year in the Great West, Houston Baptist entered town looking to rebound from a 91-50 runaway at Oregon last weekend. But LSU, back from five days off for Christmas, never allowed the Huskies to make things interesting.
Andrew Del Piero scored inside seconds after the opening tip, Stinger added a lay-up and Charles Carmouche knocked down a 3 from the right wing. Houston Baptist called a timeout down 7-0 at the 18:44 mark to temporarily stop the bleeding.
The Huskies were within 12-9 with about 11 minutes left in the first half. LSU then went on a 13-0 run fueled by a trio of 3-pointers.
“They showed up ready to play, ready to accept the challenge and compete on the same court as LSU,” Houston Baptist coach Ron Cottrell said of his team, “and that’s miles away from where we were a week ago. “I’m very pleased with the fact we weren’t intimidated by the surroundings, not intimidated by who we thought the opponent was, by the name or whatever.”
LSU takes a seven-day break before returning to face Bethune-Cookman in its final non-conference game. Then comes a trip to Auburn on Jan. 9 to open Southeastern Conference play.
Jones said Hickey worked out with LSU during Friday’s afternoon shoot-around and indicated the sophomore point guard could be back on the floor for the Bethune game. He said O’Bryant will probably be back for that game as well.