One by one, the LSU basketball team is getting all its pieces back.
With that comes the ability, the Tigers hope, to bond and build the chemistry they lacked at times while two key players were out for the first quarter of the season.
It certainly hasn’t been easy for LSU coach Johnny Jones, even when he got closer to having a full complement of players.
Jones had guard Keith Hornsby back for last Sunday’s game at Houston after Hornsby recovered from sports hernia surgery, but guard Jalyn Patterson was sidelined with a knee problem.
Three nights later against Gardner-Webb, forward Craig Victor II suited up for the first time with the Tigers — only to have forward Brian Bridgewater miss the contest with a leg problem.
While it’s not known if Patterson or Bridgewater will be available for Saturday’s 1 p.m. matchup with Oral Roberts in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, LSU (5-4) at least took a step forward in having Hornsby and Victor on the floor in a 78-57 victory over Gardner-Webb.
It wasn’t a résumé-building nonconference win, but it was what the players called a “new beginning” after LSU had dropped four of its previous five games.
“There was some talk about that, for sure,” Hornsby said after helping the Tigers tighten up their defense and rebound better in getting past Gardner-Webb. “We were in a place where we just really did not want to be.
“We knew that to get ourselves out of this hole, we couldn’t do it with just a few players. It had to be the whole team, and it had to start in practice because you can’t just go into games and try to cure everything. So it was a new look.”
It certainly looked better to Jones, who was frustrated for nearly a month over his team’s rebounding woes and defensive problems.
“Our team looked different on both ends of the floor,” he said. “We, for whatever reason, communicated better. We’ve done that in practice, but it hadn’t really transitioned into the games.”
For Victor, who hadn’t played in a year after transferring from Arizona, it was a refreshing start to his season — especially with the strong inside presence he provided down low in helping out 6-foot-10 forward Ben Simmons.
“It’s a new beginning for us. We just have to keep working at it,” Victor said. “I know you (media) have been on us about our defense and rebounding, but it takes a good group of guys working together.
“You can practice all day, but we just have to be able to do a better job of translating it over to the game.”
Wednesday’s performance couldn’t have come at a better time with Oral Roberts (8-4) carrying an RPI of 31 into the game.
The Golden Eagles played unbeaten and third-ranked Oklahoma tough for a half and upended Tulsa on the road earlier this season before falling to Missouri State 85-66 in its last outing Wednesday night.
Still, Oral Roberts presents a challenge for LSU. The Tigers have to see if they can play better defensively and rebound the ball on a more consistent basis with the start of Southeastern Conference play just two weeks away.
Gardner-Webb was just one step in an ongoing process, Simmons said.
“Definitely, this is just a start for us,” said Simmons, who leads the nation with 14.4 rebounds per game. “We almost have everyone back and healthy. ... Once we get Jalyn and Brian back, that’s a full team. We’ll be ready to improve every day and get better.”
The first 3,500 fans entering the PMAC on Saturday will receive the LSU football team’s Texas Bowl poster.
The poster features Leonard Fournette, who this week became only the fourth LSU running back to earn consensus All-American honors, and senior linebacker Deion Jones.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.