Whether in his customary role off the bench or in the crucial situation he found himself in Saturday, Brian Bridgewater carries butterflies in his stomach and a nervous energy as he prepares to step on the court.
“I get a little jittery,” Bridgewater said with a smile. “Goes away as soon as I get on the court.”
It showed Saturday.
Bridgewater powered to a career-high 16 points, Jarell Martin shouldered the load inside for his fourth double-double, and four LSU men’s basketball players scored in double figures to propel the Tigers to a 83-72 win against McNeese State on Saturday without sophomore Jordan Mickey.
Mickey, the Tigers’ leading scorer and rebounder, was removed from the lineup about nine minutes before game time and after it was previously announced he would start.
LSU coach Johnny Jones said it was a precautionary measure after Mickey received treatment for an ankle injury earlier in the week. He added Mickey would be available for the Tigers’ game Tuesday against UMass and would have been available Saturday if needed.
Not notified of Mickey’s absence until pregame shootaround, Martin, who finished with 26 points and 10 boards, knew the double teams usually reserved for Mickey would run straight to him, adding pressure to his game.
“He played real aggressive and definitely took some pressure off me,” Martin said. “Finishing plays, making big plays for us. He gives me and Jordan battles (in practice) and we give each other battles.”
Bridgewater bruised and crashed through an undersized Cowboys frontline for four of LSU’s 15 offensive rebounds and a 7-for-8 shooting clip.
“I just stepped up when the team needed me,” Bridgewater said. “I was just trying to play as hard as I can. It played out well and I’m glad I finished out.”
After Josh Gray missed the second of two free throw attempts at the 11:05 mark of the second half, Bridgewater fought his way for an offensive rebound, making a layup through contact to complete the three-point play and put LSU up 64-57.
Gray scored the next five Tiger points and Bridgewater and Tim Quarterman added buckets before the Cowboys could score again.
By the time they did, LSU had built a 16-point lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“It’s really good for us to know, without Jordan or Jarell, that someone can really come in and give us some positive minutes,” Jones said.
Martin scored LSU’s first seven points as the Tigers raced to an early 16-4 lead behind a 6-for-8 start from the field and crisp ball movement against the Cowboy defense.
After McNeese cut the lead to nine with 5:26 to go in the half, Martin brought the post-Thanksgiving crowd to its feet with back-to-back emphatic alley-oops, the last coming on a lob from Quarterman that bounced high off the backboard.
Those dunks were the final Tiger points of the half, though, as McNeese reeled off a 9-0 run to close the half, capitalizing on LSU’s one-and-done offensive trips and shoddy rebounding for a 39-39 halftime tie.
It was an offensive lull that carried over from the Tigers’ 1-2 trip to the Virgin Islands and bothered Jones after the game.
“As a team, we’ve got to continue to develop mindset, attitude and how to play with leads,” Jones said. “We haven’t done a great job of that, but it’s still early in the season. We need to see how to put teams away when we get 12 or 14-point leads.”