O'Bryant's return cause for hope

NOTES: Tigers get freshman big man back after a five-game absence. He boosts LSU's depth and adds energy when he steps on the floor.

After nearly three weeks of waiting, LSU freshman Johnny O'Bryant didn't waste any time jumping into the SEC water on Wednesday.

The Tigers' 6-foot-8, 262-pound forward made a splash 32 seconds after he checked into his SEC debut against Mississippi State with a short jump shot, part of a 6-point, 4-rebound performance in 20 minutes.

O'Bryant missed the first five SEC games as he recovered from a broken hand and surgery on Jan. 5. He played against the Bulldogs with a soft cast and banged the hand a few times, but showed no ill effects.

"That was a big transition for me (Wednesday) night," O'Bryant said. "It was just tough on me to have to wait. I thought I came out and played well and knocked down some shots and helped us battle."

O'Bryant could jump back into the starting lineup Saturday against Kentucky after his strong showing in his return from the injury. With him in the frontcourt with center Justin Hamilton, defenses have more to contend with.

Storm Warren has been effective at times in O'Bryant's absence, but he was also a nice spark coming off the bench for eight games before SEC play before O'Bryant's injury.

Besides the boost to LSU's frontcourt depth – especially with senior reserve Malcolm White's availability limited as he battles tendonitis – O'Bryant also injects some added gusto whenever he's in the game.

"When I'm out there team, I think the team plays with more energy," O'Bryant said.

With four losses in five games, the Tigers can use whatever energy they can get, and Trent Johnson liked what he saw from the highest profile recruit in his four-year tenure.

"If he's where he was in terms of practicing for the game (Wednesday) for Saturday, that's good enough for me," Johnson said. "He had fresh legs, he had a lot of bounce and he was really aggressive. I think the worst thing that has happened to him was when he got hurt because that light bulb was on.

"Quite frankly, I was surprised how well he practiced the day before we played Mississippi State. Just in terms of the breakdowns that he didn't have from an offensive standpoint. He came up, shot a couple jumpers, knocked them down and came up again. He was in the proper spot at the proper time, and he showed no favoritism of his hand. Usually guys get real tentative with that type of thing, but he was real aggressive. I was a little fearful one time right in front of us when he went to the glass offensively and he hit it (his hand) on the rim hard. He's fine."

Fuel for a comeback

Although the Tigers' comeback against State came up a little short, the method for the rally could be something LSU can build off.

Besides the sudden and welcome appearance of sharp shooting, the fact that all three primary guards were aggressive looking for shots instead of waiting for them to open up.

Andre Stringer: A new role off the bench?

"The kids were aggressive," Johnson said. "Anthony (Hickey) and Andre (Stringer) stayed aggressive and made some plays and we kept attacking. The kids executed and they didn't quit."

Hickey in particular showed some grit, draining three 3-pointers as part of LSU's 12-point onslaught in a 52.7-second span.

"He's got a lot of courage," Johnson said. "Down the stretch he was good. Down the stretch he was really good."

Stringer said he learned something about his teammates despite the loss.

"This is a tough one," he said. "My message is we want to move forward no matter what is ahead of us. Good things happen when you work hard. You can' get down on yourselves.

"Those last few minutes told me a lot. We're a team that's going to always fight no matter what the deficit or situation."

Lineup shuffle

O'Bryant's re-entry wasn't the only change for the Tigers Wednesday.

Eddie Ludwig started against the Bulldogs, with Stringer coming off the bench for the second time in three games. The first time was a punishment for being late to a team film session.

Eddie Ludwig

Wednesday was different – a chance for the sophomore to enter the game and provide some energy. Stringer connected on 5-of-12 floor shots vs. State and was perfect at the foul stripe, 5-for-5, to produce his highest scoring output since he dumped in 20 points against South Alabama on Nov. 23.

"It was either going to be Andre or Ralston (Turner)," Johnson said. "Ralston had shown some life prior to. I just wanted them to loosen up, relax and play. They care so much, and I think it showed with Andre."

Ludwig had played only 40 minutes in the six games before Wednesday, but had started five times early in the season. He, Turner and Stringer aren't exactly interchangeable, but they all know the offense and where they fit in it.

"All three of those guys have experience, and I know I can trust them at crucial times," Johnson said.

Tip-ins

  • The Tigers will play their 16th game against a No. 1 team vs. Kentucky. In its history, LSU is 3-12 against No. 1s, with the last win coming in the 2006 NCAA tournament Sweet 16 round against Duke, a 62-54 triumph.

    The Tigers have beaten only one SEC foe when they were on top of the polls – Kentucky in 1978, by a 95-94 score in overtime.

  • LSU matched its season-high with 11 3-pointers made Wednesday (in 21 attempts), and four players had at least two each: Hickey was 4-for-7, Turner was 3-for-4, Stringer was 2-for-5 and Chris Bass was 2-for-3. That's the first time this season four players have drained at least two treys in the same game.

  • Kentucky's defense is limiting opponents to 36.2% shooting (best in the SEC) and an average of 59 points per game (second). In a 57-44 victory at Georgia, the Wildcats blocked 10 shots and held the Bulldogs' duo of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Gerald Robinson – who entered averaging a combined 28.5 points per game – to 13 points and 6-of-25 shooting.

  • The Wildcats had six players score in double figures in a 77-71 win over Alabama last Saturday, the first time that has happened since Feb. 19, 2005, against Mississippi State.

  • UK senior guard Darius Miller came off the bench at Georgia and made the most of his 23 minutes, tying his season-high with 19 points. Miller made 7-of-8 floor shots, including all four he took from 3-point range.


    CHALK TALK: No. 1 Kentucky at LSU



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