KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In his turn as one of the nation’s top college players, Ben Simmons has become used to being the center of attention whenever the LSU men’s basketball team is on the floor.
But after starting the first 26 games of his college career, Simmons was off to the side for the opening tip of LSU’s crucial Southeastern Conference game with Tennessee on Saturday.
LSU coach Johnny Jones said after his team’s 81-65 loss that they had to deal with some “academic stuff” with Simmons earlier in the week, which resulted in forward Brian Bridgewater getting his first start of the season.
In the past, Jones hasn’t been shy about making changes to the lineup or his rotation when a player doesn’t live up to expectations in practice or off the court. Saturday was one of those occasions.
“This was just one of those attention-getters, or whatever, for him,” Jones said. “We’re hopeful this will help get him focused and concentrating on what he should be doing academically.”
Simmons, who wasn’t made available for postgame interviews, entered the contest with 15:30 left in the first half and played the rest of the game. He finished with a game-high 21 points and had nine rebounds, but he also committed eight turnovers — matching his season high.
Simmons was the only player on the roster to start the first 26 games.
Hornsby leaves early
As if LSU wasn’t having a tough enough time keeping up with Tennessee, things got worse when senior guard Keith Hornsby was forced to leave the game with an injury with 2:41 to play in the first half.
Hornsby grimaced and was bent over in pain when he reached the bench, where he was attended to by trainer Shawn Eddy.
Hornsby, who missed the season’s first seven games after sports hernia surgery Nov. 3, came out to the bench for the start of the second half but could only watch.
“I think he pulled up, got hurt there in the first half,” Jones said. “I’m not sure exactly what it is.”
Counting a 5-of-15 performance from beyond the 3-point line Saturday, LSU has connected on just 15 of 54 shots (27.8 percent) in its past three-plus games — with only five makes in each of the past three full games.
The drought started with its last long ball of the South Carolina game even though the Tigers were 9-of-21. They were 5-of-18 (27.8 percent) against Texas A&M, 5-of-20 (25.0 percent) against Alabama and 5-of-15 (33.3 percent) vs. Tennessee.
LSU lost the all-important rebound battle again Saturday. Tennessee pulled down 42 rebounds — including 11 on the offensive glass — while LSU had just 35.
The Tigers are 4-10 this season when they’re out-rebounded by their opponent and 12-1 when they win on the backboards.
They’re 52-17 in Jones’ four seasons when they have more rebounds in a game.