BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — After his team struggled at times during the first half of Thursday night’s game with UAB, LSU men’s basketball coach Johnny Jones saw just what he wanted to see early in the second half.
One look was all it took.
When Jones was whistled for his first technical foul in two-plus seasons as LSU’s coach with 17:22 to play, the Tigers were down by a single point after trailing twice by 11 and by 10 in the first 20 minutes.
About 6,000 fans in cozy Bartow Arena were sensing another big run when LSU’s players made a stand that carried the Tigers to a 79-70 win over UAB, which had another Southeastern Conference school — Florida — on the ropes earlier this season before falling.
While coaches sometimes bait officials into a technical foul to wake up their teams, Jones said he was just reacting to a foul called seconds earlier against forward Jarell Martin when lead official Tom Eades heard enough.
Jones smiled when asked whether the technical, which resulted in two free throws for UAB, may have helped his team go on a 17-7 run in less than five minutes that gave LSU its largest lead of the night at that point at 56-49.
“I can tell you as soon as I got it, I looked at them and they were giving me that look,” Jones said. “It was like, ‘Coach, we’re going to take care of this.’ That’s a good sign ... the guys knowing that you have their back and that you’re there for them and fighting for them. It wasn’t something I was trying to do. I was just reacting to a call.”
It didn’t matter that it wasn’t intentional, because it gave the Tigers the boost they needed.
It certainly was a side of Jones that freshman guard Jalyn Patterson hadn’t seen — not in a game, anyway.
“At that point, we knew we had to come together as a team and shut everybody up in the arena ... and just play,” said Patterson, who had a career-high 11 points. “I didn’t expect him to get a tech; I was kind of surprised. But we kind of played through it and kept doing what we were supposed to do.”
UAB’s Nick Norton sank both free throws to give his team a 42-39 lead, but LSU avoided further damage when a 3-pointer by Norton bounced off the rim after the Blazers gained possession of the ball following the technical.
Norton’s miss led to a quick basket by Jordan Mickey and back-to-back 3-pointers by Patterson and Keith Hornsby to give the Tigers a 47-44 lead. A long 3-pointer from the corner by the 6-foot-10 Martin capped the 17-7 run.
“I thought (UAB) came out with a great deal of energy and played with an edge there in the first half,” Jones said. “The good thing was midway in the first half we were able to sustain the energy level, and in the second half we came out and not tried to match it but really tried to exceed it.
“I felt like that was the difference in the game, really — the first five minutes of the second half,” added Jones, whose team trailed 39-33 at halftime before scoring the first six points of the second half to tie it and increased the run to 14-5 at the 15:05 mark.
Hornsby, who scored 22 points to go with Martin’s game-high 25, said the Tigers simply had to play with more energy and intensity. He said they were a little lackadaisical in the first half — especially on defense before Jones switched to a 2-3 zone with seven minutes to play.
“They came out gunning and hitting … they were playing great basketball,” said Hornsby, who helped LSU shoot 56.7 percent from the field in the second half. “We made a little run late in the first half and, in the second half, we were a completely different team.
“Coach Jones was optimistic at halftime; he was like, ‘We’re right there,’ ” he said. “Basically, all we had to do was buckle down, especially on defense, and that’s what we did.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.