Former five-star prospect Johnny O’Bryant III signed with LSU last spring with hopes of one day filling up the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on a regular basis.
On Saturday, with No. 1 Kentucky in Baton Rouge, 10,060 fans packed the PMAC to see O’Bryant and the Tigers fall to the Wildcats, 74-50.
But even in defeat, games against elite competition like Kentucky often bring out the best in emerging players.
That appeared to be the case for O’Bryant, who finished with 12 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal – one of the lone Tigers who turned in a strong day against the nation’s top-ranked team.
“As much time as (O’Bryant) missed, he took the ball right at them, which was our game plan,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said.
Playing in his second game after missing five straight following a Jan. 5 surgery to treat a broken left hand, O’Bryant didn’t seem affected by taking on the Wildcats with a wrapped hand.
“It wasn’t bothering me,” he said. “It got hit a couple of times, but I just fought through the pain.
“Coach told us to just take it at them. That’s what I tried to do.”
O’Bryant said he was motivated by the spotlight.
“This was my first real big college game,” he said.
Johnson circled another element, a familiarity O’Bryant has with Kentucky’s players, from a time before the boys put on college jerseys, that helped push LSU’s star freshman the extra mile.
“In terms of having played against those guys, being a McDonald’s All-American, going to the Jordan game and playing USA basketball, there is a certain confidence that goes about that,” Johnson said.
“You look out there and you say he belonged.”
Matched against Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis, two of the nation’s elite young forwards, O’Bryant proved his stock is rising, a big positive for an LSU team that sits at 2-5 in SEC play with nine games remaining.
Although the Tigers are dazed after a hellish month of January, O’Bryant’s first big splash in the spotlight comes with a sour taste.
"I think I performed well,” he said. “But we took a loss, so it really doesn’t matter."