For the second year in a row, the LSU men’s basketball team will take the floor at Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday night missing an integral part of its starting lineup for an important game with Arkansas.
LSU can only hope the results are the same as a year ago when Keith Hornsby buried a 3-point buzzer-beating shot from deep in the left corner for an 81-78 victory over then-No. 18 Arkansas as All-Southeastern Conference forward Jordan Mickey looked on from the bench with a shoulder injury.
This time, it’ll be Hornsby watching to see if someone can step up and make the play or plays that carry LSU to a critical win in a game that could give its flagging NCAA tournament hopes a boost.
Hornsby won’t suit up after aggravating the hernia injury he suffered in preseason during an 81-65 loss at Tennessee on Saturday, leaving LSU (16-11, 9-5) a man down for the crucial 6 p.m. matchup with Arkansas (13-14, 6-8).
LSU coach Johnny Jones certainly remembered how similar things were when they had to play without Mickey, the nation’s top shot-blocker last season, and still stunned Arkansas at the buzzer.
“All our guys certainly had to play an excellent game, and we were able to, up there last year,” Jones said. “It was a great effort by our team. It would be similar fashion because Jordan wasn’t available to us, and we know the presence and what he meant to our team.
“Guys were able to pull it together and play well.”
Another short-handed victory at Arkansas would ensure LSU of retaining a share of second place in the SEC standings, just one game behind Kentucky — which hosts Alabama at the same time the Tigers are Razorbacks are playing.
LSU coach Johnny Jones on Monday labeled an ESPN report saying Hornsby could miss the remainder of the season as “erroneous” and said after the team arrived in Fayetteville late Monday afternoon that Hornsby will continue to be evaluated by doctors as they go over X-rays and tests that were performed Sunday.
He added that doctors were waiting for “things to calm down around his injury” and said Hornsby, who averages 13.1 points per game and is hitting 41.5 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, will be day-to-day for Saturday’s huge matchup with Florida in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“Hopefully, he can do what he’s always done with his teammates: showing leadership,” Jones said of having his senior sharpshooter in the locker room and on the bench at Arkansas.
While injuries are never good, the loss to Tennessee could be a teaching moment for Jones’ team, which Monday dropped off the NCAA tournament radar of the nation’s top bracketologists: ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com.
Tennessee tripped LSU with guard Kevin Punter, the team’s leading scorer at 22.2 points per game, sitting on the bench with a walking boot on his injured right ankle.
On the same day, Mississippi State went on the road without star freshman guard Malik Newman and upset a red-hot Alabama team that had won five consecutive SEC games.
“Sometimes, when those things happen, it’s a little bit different how your team reacts to it in the way they play,” Jones said. “I thought Tennessee, without Punter, did a great job.
“They were hitting on all cylinders, and we couldn’t get them stopped in consecutive possessions, which generally is good for us. That team got into a rhythm that was hard to break.”
Jones said he is hoping the experience the rest of his guards received when Hornsby missed the first seven regular-season games will be beneficial for LSU against Arkansas and beyond.
“We hope because of his presence during the time that we did have him that a lot of our young guys who were inexperienced had an opportunity to learn and witness the pace of play and what he was able to bring to our team,” Jones said. “It’s certainly going to have to be by committee, but we’re hopeful someone will be able to step up and try to fill that void.
“I don’t think it’ll be one individual. It’s going to have to be several guys for what he was able to lend the team. His presence has certainly meant a great deal to us.”
While Antonio Blakeney has come on with at least 20 points in three of his past five games, Tim Quarterman, Jalyn Patterson, Josh Gray and freshman Brandon Sampson will also have to produce.
Jones will have Ben Simmons back in the starting lineup after he sat his star freshman for the first 4½ minutes of the Tennessee loss because of an academics issue.
“We had to make sure that we stuck to some guidelines we had in place,” Jones said Monday. “We addressed them and have been able to move on. There’s no one probably more disappointed than him, feeling like he didn’t have an opportunity to be there at the start of the game for us.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.