LSU used late runs in both halves and overcame the loss of Johnny O’Bryant III just past the halfway point of the first half to win the opening game of head coach Johnny Jones’ tenure, 77-63, Friday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Charles Carmouche went for 16 points
O’Bryant played 11 of the first 13 minutes, hit 6-of-10 field goals including a three to score 13 points and had eight rebounds before going to the dressing room with seven minutes to go in the first half and did not return.
“He just said he felt a little strain there in his leg,” Jones said. “I haven’t had an opportunity to visit with our trainer extensively yet to find out exactly what happened, but we’ll have an opportunity to rest him tomorrow, have him reevaluated, and just kind of see where we stand prior to us coming back to practice on Sunday.”
Three other Tigers had double figures with Charles Carmouche also hitting 6-of-10 field goals in a 16 point night, while Malik Morgan and Shane Hammink, playing with his dad (former LSU All-SEC center Geert Hammink) in the stands, each scored 10.
Anthony Hickey came off the bench to play 28 minutes, with six points, six assists and seven steals for a Tiger squad that shot 44.8 percent from the field (30-67) and hit 10-of-26 from beyond the arc.
UCSB (0-1) was led by Kyle Boswell with 17 points, while Alan Williams had 14 and Michael Bryson 10.
While UC Santa Barbara out rebounded the Tigers, 41-40, the Gauchos turned the ball over 23 times. LSU was able to reduce its 21 turnovers in Monday’s exhibition down to 13. The only negative stat was that some of LSU’s best free throw shooters struggled, making just 7-of-20 from the stripe.
“Great effort by our players tonight, the way that they played, got after it, gave a tremendous effort out there tonight,” said Jones. “Before you guys ask, on Sunday when we get back to practice we will work on free throws, so I’ll get that knocked out for us.”
O’Bryant helped the Tigers overcome a sluggish start that saw the Gauchos, a post-season team the last three years, get out to a 14-9 advantage 6:30 into the contest.
O’Bryant appeared to be everywhere following a Hammink three with one of his own to give LSU a 27-22 advantage with 9:18 to go in the first half. The lead went to as much as nine, 33-24, at the 7:03 mark before O’Bryant headed to the bench.
“I didn’t see it all summer and I haven’t seen it since October since we started practice to be honest with you,” Jones said of O’Bryant’s start. “The way that he played away from the basket and as explosive as he was, I thought he was on a tear. Jumped up making plays, and he’s very capable of knocking down shots.
“Through our practices and scrimmaging, we’ve utilized him mostly around the basket and made sure that he took advantage of those opportunities. But I thought he knocked down a couple of shots early, felt extremely confident, and was really playing a great basketball game.”
It was at that point that UCSB made a big run to cut the LSU lead to just two, 33-31, with 4:14 to go in the first half. But LSU would finish the half strong and led 41-32 at intermission.
Without O’Bryant, the Tigers turned into a quicker unit and like the exhibition on Monday, became a quick hands unit forcing 14 second half miscues that led to 15 LSU points.
In the first seven minutes of the second half, LSU opened the lead to 18, 55-37, on an Andre Stringer three with 13:06 to play and pushed it to as many as 21 on three occasions in the final four minutes.
“You all saw us out there running up and down, knocking down shots and getting steals,” Eddie Ludwig said. “That’s Coach Jones’ style of play. That’s how we practice. That’s what we’ve been doing since he’s got here. I think it just translated out onto the floor.”
The team will take Saturday off and practice on Sunday in preparation for Tuesday’s home game against McNeese State.