When the LSU men’s basketball team faces Northwestern State on Tuesday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, it will mark the first time the Tigers have gone under the lights since beating McNeese State seven days earlier.
That has given LSU, a young team still adapting to first-year coach Johnny Jones’ up-tempo system, a full week to practice and improve.
That has also given injured big man Johnny O’Bryant’s ailing left calf a full week to heal.
O’Bryant left the Nov. 9 season opener with more than seven minutes to go in the first half and watched the 77-48 rout of McNeese last week from the bench. He could be back in the lineup Tuesday as Jones goes for his third win in as many trips to the LSU sideline.
“It’s something I definitely think is possible,” O’Bryant said.
Jones said LSU trainer Shawn Eddy would evaluate O’Bryant after Monday’s practice and likely make a decision on whether the sophomore could play.
O’Bryant returned to practice Sunday, but his participation was limited.
“I think the trainer will have an idea of how much Johnny can put on his leg,” Jones said. “We don’t want to risk anything and put him in a position where he can cause more injury or more damage to his leg.”
O’Bryant got off to a roaring start in the opener, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in only 11 minutes before leaving with the injury. But his status as the team’s most indispensable player is based not on his talents alone.
Eddie Ludwig and Jalen Courtney have both moved from the perimeter to the post this season to help LSU’s thin front line. Shavon Coleman is also spending time down low despite being recruited as a wing.
The other option inside is Andrew Del Piero, a former walk-on.
But Ludwig said the absence of O’Bryant for a game and a half could pay dividends down the road. Especially since the Tigers are still winning.
LSU built a lead of 21 points against UC Santa Barbara after O’Bryant went down, then controlled the Cowboys throughout and won the battle on the inside for the second game in a row.
“As much as we hated having him out, it’s really helped our team grow,” Ludwig said.
The absence of O’Bryant helped open the way for Coleman to score 25 points — including 23 in the first half — and grab 10 rebounds against McNeese, a coming-out party for the Thibodaux native who moved inside to replace O’Bryant in the starting lineup.
O’Bryant said he had no doubt one of his teammates would step up.
“I think we have players that are capable of doing that every night,” O’Bryant said. “Shavon was just that player that night.”
Though only two games into the Johnny Jones era, the new coach’s influence on the Tigers is already evident.
LSU has used an assist to score 58.9 percent of its baskets, has registered 26 steals and forced 41 turnovers, and has knocked down 19 3-pointers in the two wins.
The Tigers look to stay perfect against a Northwestern team off to its first 3-0 start in 20 years, albeit against a schedule that includes East Texas Baptist, Campbell and Hannibal-LaGrange. The Demons are looking for their first win against LSU since 1957, two years after coach Mike McConathy was born.
Northwestern, averaging 93.7 points, has outrebounded its three opponents 137-106 and has forced those opponents into 58 turnovers.
Junior forward DeQuan Hicks, who has come off the bench in all three games, leads a deep, balanced Northwestern attack with 16.7 points and 7.3 rebounds. Freshman guard Jalen West averages 15 points, the second of four Demons averaging in double figures.
“We’re playing a very physical and talented basketball team, a group that’s averaging roughly 93 points a game and averaging 43 rebounds a game,” Jones said. “Our defensive end will definitely be tested, and we’ll definitely have to rebound the basketball extremely well against a physical team.”