Tiger Ties

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It might be surprising, but there are a few interesting connections between NC State and their opening opponent in the NCAA Tournament, the LSU Tigers.

For Mark Gottfried, he'll be squaring off against a close friend, LSU head coach Johnny Jones, who previously worked with Gottfried at Alabama in 2000-01.

"Johnny was my assistant at Alabama for a year before he went to North Texas State," said Gottfried. "He got the North Texas State job from my staff. He played for Dale Brown and then coached with Dale Brown for many years.

"He's an excellent coach, one of the best guys I've ever worked with, one of the most knowledgeable guys I've ever worked with. I know him very well."

Jones shares the same feelings for Gottfried.

"As soon as I saw it, I’m sitting there, and we (Mark Gottfried and I) actually talked this morning on my way to church," said Jones. "We were on the phone together, and I was congratulating him because I saw that they were solidly in. He texted me last night, (he was) hopeful. He said, ‘I’m hoping things work out and you guys get in.’ We spoke today and had chance to visit a little bit.

"When I saw their name come up, I was excited for him and where they were. Then, our name popped up underneath. It was kind of ironic. Right away, I knew that was a guy I formerly worked for and served as an assistant coach (at Alabama). We’ve been friends for a long, long time in the profession. It certainly will be an interesting game for the both of us."

What did Jones learn from working with Gottfried?

"I think Mark doesn’t get enough credit," he said. "He’s a basketball junkie. He’s a guy that eats, sleeps and breathes it day and night. Be it whatever his team is doing offensively or defensively or the recruiting aspect of it, that’s what he’s about.

"When I was around him, he does a lot of UCLA offensively with what he runs. He has a lot of schemes off of it as well. He’s one of the hardest working guys out there in the business, and he’s done a tremendous job."

Because of Gottfried's ties with Jones, he watched LSU when he had the chance this season. He even caught their two-point home loss to Kentucky.

"LSU played them great and lost to them by two," Gottfried said of the game. "Obviously I thought Johnny did a great job getting his team ready for that game. That gets your attention. We've watched teams get beat badly by Kentucky and they didn't do it."

The Tigers had a chance to win that game in the final seconds, but sharpshooter Keith Hornsby wasn't able to hit the game-winning three-pointer. Hornsby, who leads LSU with 70 three-pointers, nearly attended NC State.

He started his college career at UNC Asheville, where he scored 23 points against the Wolfpack as a sophomore in 2012. He actually visited NC State after deciding to leave Asheville but ultimately ended up in Baton Rouge.

Hornsby, who is averaging 13.6 points and 4.2 rebounds, will certainly be a focal point for the Wolfpack defense.

"Keith [Hornsby], he played awfully well against us when he played at UNC Asheville," said Gottfried. "He even considered coming here when he was making the decision to transfer. We know him a little bit, we know his game. Great shooter, great athlete, and that will be interesting because we know him pretty good."

NC State senior Ralston Turner will likely spend some time defending Hornsby, and this is a unique game for Turner, who spent two seasons at LSU before transferring to NC State. What does he know about this year's team?

"Everyone that I played with there is not there anymore, so I don't know any of those guys," said Turner. "[I don't know] a whole lot [about LSU]. I know they are really talented. I've seen a few of their games on TV, but I'm not truly familiar with them."

For Turner, this could be his last collegiate basketball game.

"It's been something I've been thinking about here lately," he said. "I'm well-aware of it, but once I get on the court I don't really think about it."

The Wolfpack will have their hands full with the Tigers, who play six guys over 24 minutes a night and have road wins over West Virginia and Arkansas. With a dynamic frontline, it's going to be a tough matchup for NC State.

"I thought LSU had a great year," said Gottfried. "I followed them pretty closely all throughout the year because of their coach, and that's one of those teams that until right now, I've been pulling for them, cheering for LSU. They've done a great job. Obviously they are very deserving to play."

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