NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In what was hardly a surprise, LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones announced Thursday that senior guard Keith Hornsby underwent a season-ending medical procedure on Tuesday.
Hornsby aggravated a sports hernia injury on Feb. 20 at Tennessee and was sidelined for the last four regular-season games. He held out hope he could return — perhaps in the Southeastern Conference tournament or in another postseason tournament -— but that ended with a doctor’s visit Monday.
Hornsby told reporters last week he hadn’t been able to do any basketball activities since being hurt in the first half against Tennessee and it was painful to just walk or even sit in a chair.
Jones made the announcement shortly after his team went through a final practice for its SEC tournament opener. Fourth-seeded LSU will play in the quarterfinals around 2:30 p.m. Friday against 12th-seeded Tennessee, which upset fifth-seeded Vanderbilt 67-65 on Thursday, in Bridgestone Arena.
“We wanted to let him go through the process and let the doctors do all their due diligence,” Jones said. “They thought it was best at this time to go ahead and get a procedure done so he can start preparing and getting ready for his professional career.
“(The doctors) did not think he could get back to the level needed to be able to provide us what he’d been giving us the last two years.”
Hornsby originally was injured in preseason workouts in the fall and had surgery Nov. 3, just 10 days before the Tigers’ regular-season opener. He missed the first seven games, but returned to action Dec. 13 at Houston and poured in a career-high 32 points in a 105-98 overtime loss.
The Williamsburg, Virginia, native wound up playing in 20 games this season with 19 starts, averaging 13.1 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. He averaged 30.4 minutes per game and shot 48.9 percent from the field — including 41.5 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
The 6-foot-4 Hornsby scored 20 or more points seven times in his two-year career with LSU after playing his first two seasons at UNC-Asheville.
For his LSU career, Hornsby played in 53 games with 52 starts and averaged 13.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
“The big part is what he’d give us on the floor, the leadership and the way he played … what he meant to our team,” Jones said when asked about not having Hornsby on the bench for the tournament. “The good thing is our guys have been around him; they have learned his pace of play and how hard he played.
“They know there’s a void, and as a team we have to try to fill that void.”
Tennessee or Vandy?
After Tennessee crushed Auburn in the tournament opener Wednesday night, LSU’s coaching staff had only two teams to get ready for when their team hit the practice floor Thursday morning.
Jones said not knowing his team’s opponent until around 5 p.m. Thursday wasn’t a big problem.
“Basically, you go over a lot of their sets,” he said earlier Thursday. “We can walk through those things and look at tape later tonight to be more prepared. But we’ve played both these teams before, so it’s nothing new to us.”
LSU dropped an 81-65 decision to Tennessee just 20 days ago.
Rise and shine
After arriving in Nashville on Wednesday afternoon, the LSU coaches and players had an early wake-up call Thursday.
They had a 7:30 a.m. practice on the Bridgestone Arena floor and had an 11 a.m. session at Lipscomb University.
“We had an opportunity to get some shots up and get familiar with the floor, the lighting and the rims in there,” Jones said of the 45-minute session at Bridgestone Arena. “It was good for our guys to get out there.”
After finishing in a tie for third place in the regular season for the second year in a row, LSU is the No. 4 seed for the tournament.
The Tigers finished in a four-way tie for third a year ago at 11-7 and had an identical league mark this season in tying South Carolina and Vanderbilt for third. LSU took the middle spot in a three-way tiebreaker with those teams.
LSU is 18-19 in its first game at the league’s championship event since the SEC tournament’s revival in 1979.
The Tigers are 46-55 overall in 56 tournament appearances and with a win against Tennessee on Friday would earn a semifinals berth for the 26th time.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.