For someone who calmly buried a 3-point shot at the buzzer to upend No. 18 Arkansas in front of 19,000 screaming fans on the final day of the regular season, LSU guard Keith Hornsby was feeling a little nervous late Sunday afternoon.
When the NCAA tournament selection show began to unfold with all his coaches and teammates sitting around him in the LSU basketball practice facility, Hornsby wasn’t so calm any more.
He certainly wasn’t as sure as he was after LSU’s 73-70 overtime loss to Auburn in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament 48 hours earlier.
“I heard we were most likely in the tournament,” Hornsby said when reminded how confident he has been that the Tigers would be included in the 68-team field. “But since you never know until you know, I wasn’t definite about it.
“I still had butterflies when I was sitting there watching the brackets get unveiled. So yeah, I was as thrilled as anybody when we were selected.”
Luckily, LSU didn’t have to wait long after the selection show began to see its name pop up on the large TV screens that had the Tigers safely in the field as the No. 9 seed in the East regional. LSU (22-10) will take on No. 8 seed North Carolina State (20-13) in a second-round game Thursday in Pittsburgh.
Hornsby wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
“After losing to Auburn, it was a little heartbreaking,” guard Jalyn Patterson said. “I didn’t know if we were going to get in or not.”
They shouldn’t have worried.
Despite a roller-coaster season that saw them score some quality wins but stub their toe at times against some of the Southeastern Conference cellar-dwellers, LSU came in as the 35th overall seed in the field of 68.
LSU coach Johnny Jones was confident, too, but wanted to make sure his team was together when the news — whatever it was — came.
“With how hard they’ve worked and all of the things we’ve done together, I didn’t want them being in an apartment or in their dorms or somewhere and get this news alone,” he said. “We’ve been fighting all of this time together. … We were either going to be disappointed together, or we were going to celebrate together.
“Fortunately, we were able to be here together and were able to celebrate when it came over the TV. The excitement was certainly there. As low as we were on Friday, you can multiply that by 15 where we were when our name came up.”
Forward Jarell Martin said for some reason he was convinced his team was going to be playing Wichita State. When that team was selected when the first of four brackets were unveiled, which had them playing Indiana, he grew a little nervous.
“When they didn’t call our name there, my heart dropped,” Martin said Monday. “Then, (associate head coach David Patrick) told me that we were still good. I was like, ‘All right, we’ve got to hear our name.’ We heard it, and it was a great moment. It was a big relief hearing our name called.”
It certainly beat the disappointment he, Jordan Mickey and Tim Quarterman felt when the Tigers didn’t receive an invite last season and had to settle for the National Invitation Tournament.
“We wanted to come in here last year (as freshmen) and make it to the tournament, but we didn’t get that opportunity,” Martin said. “The players that were on that team last year used that as motivation for this year.
“We kept saying from the beginning of the year that our goal at the end of the season was to be playing in the NCAA tournament. Now that we reached that goal, we’ve got to make the most of it.”
“It’s a new opportunity for us,” Hornsby agreed. “We have a chance to capitalize on this, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Hornsby laughed when it was suggested that LSU, which was 12-5 against teams inside the top 100 in the RPI, won’t have to play any more losing teams from here on out.
“There’s no excuse for us if we don’t play to the best of our ability in this game,” he said. “This is what we wanted all year and this is what we worked so hard for from the beginning of the year. We should take everything we learned this year and put it into this game, and hopefully, the results will show.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.