EUGENE, Ore. — A year ago, LSU’s Quincy Downing couldn’t have dreamed about doing what he did Friday afternoon.
Late in his sophomore season, Downing was just taking the first steps in his budding career in the 400-meter hurdles after bouncing between the 400 and 800 meters for most of his first two years with the Tigers.
The switch paid off handsomely Friday when he finished third in the 400 hurdles final at the NCAA championships, giving the sixth-ranked LSU men their first six points of the four-day meet.
Downing, who will lead off the Tigers’ highly rated 4x400-meter relay team Saturday, broke his personal record by more than a half-second with a time of 49.97 seconds. His old mark of 50.49 was set in the NCAA East preliminary rounds May 30.
Teammate Vernon Norwood later finished third in the 400 with a time of 45.45 seconds to give the Tigers another six points and a total of 12 for the meet, which has them tied for 12th going into the final day of competition.
Oregon leads the men’s race with 53 points, followed by Florida (28) and Georgia (24). The Oregon women also lead with 43 points with Texas A&M (41) and Texas and Florida (29 each) following. LSU’s women are tied for seventh with 18 points.
While Downing and Norwood gave the Tigers their first points of the meet, the Lady Tigers added to the fifth-place finish of Dennis Hinton in the hammer Wednesday.
Shortly after Downing’s run, Lady Tigers Nikita Tracey and Chanice Chase raced to a 4-5 finish in the women’s 400 hurdles with times of 56.35 and 56.51.
Then, senior Lynnika Pitts, a former East Ascension High School star, capped a productive day for the Lady Tigers when she placed fourth in the triple jump with a PR of 44 feet, 1¼ inches.
The Lady Tigers will have four scoring opportunities Saturday; the men three.
Coming off their strong finishes Friday, Downing and Norwood will run the first and fourth legs of the 4x400, which had the second-fastest time in the semifinals Thursday night.
Downing’s run was big for the Tigers because he earned a couple of extra points after Rodney Brown failed to reach the final of the discus when he sandwiched a pair of fouls around a subpar throw of 191-10.
“It was a hell of a race because I had some good competition down in lanes three, four and five,” Downing said. “They had faster PRs than me, so my job was to maintain my composure, stay relaxed and not make any mistakes.
“I was fourth or fifth coming off the last curve, so I just had to hang in there and stay with it. I just had to stay calm and try to pick off as many as I could in the home stretch and clear the last hurdle as clean as I could.”
While it was nice to break the 50-second barrier for the first time, Downing, who displaced former LSU Olympian Billy Hardin in sixth place on the school’s all-time list, admitted that he wanted to go under 49 seconds.
“Even though I’m still kind of new to the hurdles, I had high expectations of myself and wanted to go a little faster. Everything was good until the ninth hurdle and 10th hurdles, and I kind of chopped my steps a little.”
Norwood also had a fight on his hands in facing Texas A&M’s Deon Lendore, the bronze medalist in the 400 at the 2012 London Olympics.
Norwood conserved some energy running into a slight breeze down the back stretch, but couldn’t make up enough ground to catch Lendore (45.02) or Oregon’s Mike Berry (45.07).
“Coming off that (curve), I knew I had to hit it hard and finish,” said Norwood, who was the runner-up to Lendore at the NCAA indoor meet in March. “I tried not to look at anybody else. I just tried to focus on finishing the race and do the best I could for my team.”
That would also include a solid finish in the 4x400, where he’ll join Norwood, Darrell Bush and Cyril Grayson as they try to repeat the title after winning at indoor nationals.
“My adrenaline is pumping right now,” Norwood said. “I just can’t wait to get the guys ready and try to repeat the title from indoors. It’s going to be tough.”
The Tigers also hope to get big points from the 4x100 relay team of Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, Aaron Ernest, Tremayne Acy and Shermund Allsop — who clocked the third-fastest time in the semifinals Wednesday.
Ernest will also run in the 200 final after posting the second-fastest time in the semis.
The Lady Tigers will have a 4x100 relay team to start the final day of competition, while Jasmin Stowers will compete in the 100-meter hurdles, Tori Bliss will go in the shot put and Pitts will return to try for more points in the high jump.
“We’ve really positioned ourselves well to have a great finish to this meet,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “We’ve given ourselves seven chances to score points (Saturday), and we need to take advantage of each one.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.