“I said to settle down,” Johnson said. “It’s going to happen. Whether it is early or it is late, they are going to make a run.”
If veteran leadership meant anything, right then was the time Johnson was going to cash in.
By the next TV timeout, LSU trailed 16-12.
“We got hit in the face to the tune of 13-0,” Johnson said. “I thought those guys came in and gave us great energy and competed their tails off. We got back into things, and we found out that we could compete a little bit.”
White dunked an offensive rebound to get things rolling, and another dunk by White was separated only by two steals by Bass. Warren’s layup at the 12:04 mark cut the lead to 16-12, and three free throws from sophomore guard Ralston Turner brought the Tigers within one point at the 10:57 mark.
“They basically came in and were very physical and played like seniors are supposed to play,” Johnson said. “They know how to win games, so you have to match their physicality and know how to be smart about it.
Junior center Justin Hamilton added: “The guys that came in sparked our energy. We had the dunks that brought the crowd back into it. We started off really slow. Our mistakes killed us. We wanted to limit our mistakes and we knew playing solid team defense would get us back into it.”
At the 7:53 mark in the first half, LSU led for the first time when Warren hit a stickback.
After eight ties and 13 lead changes, the Tigers pulled off one of the biggest home wins in recent memory, downing Marquette 67-59.
“(Johnson) prepared us really well,” Hamilton said. “He was getting into it with the fans. It was a lot of fun.
“I think overall he was really excited for this game.”
An unusually animated Johnson’s interaction with the 8,630 fans in the PMAC was certainly one of the highlights: For fans and the head coach.
“I thought our fans were great,” Johnson said. “It got really loud, and there were some times that we needed every inch of their help.”
For the players, it was a game to file away in the favorites folder.
“The fans were great,” Turner said. “This was the biggest game I have played in the PMAC in the two years I’ve been here. I want to thank everybody that came out. It was a real pleasure.”
Warren had to dig deep to find a game that brought this much excitement into the PMAC.
“I would date it way back when Marcus (Thornton) was here and we played Xavier (an 80-70 loss in 2009),” he said. “It was an intense game, just like this one. The crowd was into it and they were pumping it up. This time we came out on top.”
For freshman Anthony Hickey, this was the type of win that last year’s Mr. Basketball in Kentucky signed on for when he decided to join the efforts of Johnson and Co. in Baton Rouge.
“The downfall can’t go forever,” Hickey said. “We are going to keep climbing. I felt like this was the perfect spot for me. I am willing to sacrifice for my team. We are going to climb together.
“We are going to continue to do what we do on the court, and we are going to keep filling out the PMAC and give the fans what they want to see.”