The LSU basketball team turned back the clock Wednesday night.
We’re talking way back, before any of the current Tigers were born.
But for many in attendance for a seemingly routine nonconference game against North Florida, including LSU coach Johnny Jones, one thing came to mind when the two teams raced up and down the court for 40 minutes: Loyola Marymount.
Just nine months after the 25th anniversary of LSU’s epic 148-141 overtime victory over LMU in the same building, when Jones was an assistant on Dale Brown’s staff, North Florida played the part of the Lions.
“The only game this even comes close to is probably Loyola Marymount,” a relieved Jones said after his team’s wild 119-108 win. “They had some guys on that team that were excellent shooters in the way they ran and pushed the ball up the floor. This team (North Florida), they try to defend.”
Needing a win to snap a frustrating three-game losing streak, the Tigers looked very much like they were going to make it four in a row when they got off to a slow start while the Ospreys shot the lights out.
LSU trailed by 14 points midway through the opening half after North Florida hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer, nailing 10-of-16 from beyond the arc in the first half in taking a 56-48 lead at halftime.
Jones said the difference in the second half, which saw LSU outscore UNF 71-52, was the Tigers’ patience — and reluctance — to engage in a 3-point contest with the red-hot Ospreys.
“What you want to do is make sure you’re patient and don’t get in a 3-point contest with them because they’ll utilize your miss and get out on a break,” Jones said. “Those guys run to the line … they feed off that.”
But when North Florida cooled off slightly in the second half, LSU forward Ben Simmons took advantage of his 6-foot-10 frame to get into the low post and wreak havoc one possession at a time.
After making 10 of its final 15 field-goal attempts to end the first half on a high note, LSU really took off in the second half.
Simmons scored the final six points of the first half, then reeled off eight points in a row to start the second period to ignite his teammates and the crowd.
LSU eventually went 15-for-18 at the outset of the second period with each of those field goals coming in the paint. By then, the Tigers had forged an 80-75 lead with 12:29 left — which led to the win.
That meant LSU, which shot 35.1 percent from the field during its three-game losing streak, had a 17-minute stretch in which it knocked down 25 of 33 shots for 75.8 percent en route to shooting a sizzling 77.1 percent in the second half.
Back and forth it went, Simmons and guards Tim Quarterman, Josh Gray and Jalyn Patterson matching North Florida guards Beau Beech and Dallas Moore shot for shot after the Ospreys had the better of it in the first half.
Simmons was a torrid 9-of-10 from the field in the second period, while Quarterman buried all five of his shots. Forward Aaron Epps was 5-of-6 and Gray was 4-of-4.
While Beech and Moore finished with 31 points each in combining to hit 11 of 19 shots from 3-point range, Simmons had 43 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and three blocks.
According to ESPN, Simmons became only the fourth freshman in the past 20 seasons to get 40 points and 10 rebounds in a game — joining Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough and Kansas State’s Michael Beasley, who did it three times.
Muscling his way in down low was a key for Simmons, Quarterman said.
“I just told him to run the court hard and I was going to look at him,” he said. “He ran the court extremely well. When he posts up down there, not a lot of people in the country can stop him. We just wanted to get him the ball down there and get easy touches around the rack.”
His productivity down low, in turn, opened things up for his teammates for kick-out passes to the perimeter.
LSU, which made only three 3-pointers to North Florida’s 19, survived because Quarterman and Gray had 20 points and six assists each, Epps had a career-high 14 and Patterson had 11.
While the Tigers and Ospreys were an overtime away from being another LSU-Loyola Marymount, 40 minutes of frenetic offense was enough for Jones after watching the teams combine for 227 points on 146 field-goal attempts and 49 free throws.
“I don’t want to see those guys again,” Jones said.
Two of LSU’s next three games have new tipoff times.
The Tigers’ next outing on Dec. 13 at Houston has been switched from a 7 p.m. tip to 4:30 p.m., and the game will now be televised by ESPN2.
The Dec. 19 game with Oral Roberts at home was also changed from 7 p.m. to 1 p.m. That game will still be broadcast on the SEC Network.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.