As the only member of the LSU basketball team to have played in the NCAA tournament, Keith Hornsby can give his teammates a lot of advice that could come in handy this week.
At the top of the list would be trying to stay focused considering all of the attention tournament teams get when it comes to playing in March on the college game’s biggest stage.
“A lot of stuff is obvious,” Hornsby said after LSU learned it was in the tournament. “You’re going to get a lot of attention while you’re there. You have to expect that, but you can’t let it faze you.
“You have to focus like you would in playing a big game that just so happened to not be in the (NCAA) tournament,” he said. “But since it is in the tournament, you enjoy it and play hard.”
Off the floor, Hornsby probably can even give his buddies a few recommendations on where to get a bite to eat in downtown Pittsburgh, where the Tigers will be headquartered for their first tournament appearance since 2009.
Hornsby won’t even need to get directions to the locker room when LSU walks into Consol Energy Center on Wednesday afternoon for a final practice session ahead of Thursday night’s matchup with North Carolina State.
Just entering the arena, which is home to the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, will bring back lots of memories from the end of Hornsby’s freshman season at UNC Asheville in 2012.
As champions of the Big South Conference, UNC Asheville earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament where the 16th-seeded Bulldogs squared off with No. 1 seed Syracuse, which was a hefty 15½-point favorite, in Consol Energy Center.
The result was very predictable considering a No. 16 seed has never won a game in the NCAA tournament, but Hornsby and his teammates had nothing to hang their heads over after a 72-65 loss to the nation’s second-ranked team.
After the game, then-UNC Asheville coach Ed Biedenbach said, “Syracuse is better than Asheville. … Tonight, we were better then Syracuse.”
While a pair of controversial calls went against his team in the final 87 seconds of the tightly-played contest, helping Syracuse escape with a win, it was a special time nonetheless for Hornsby.
“Although it was a brief stint in the tournament, it was the tournament and it was a good experience … valuable,” Hornsby said. “The No. 16 seed lost to the one seed, but it was a good game and it came right down to the wire.”
His personal memories from that game, however, remain three years later.
“That game was played on the biggest stage I had played on to that point, and it was a little daunting,” Hornsby admitted.
“A lot of people around me, especially my dad, who I talk to and receive advice from on a regular basis, told me if I got in to just have fun and play hard and play in the moment,” he said. “That’s exactly what I did, and it was a great, fun experience when I was in there.”
Hornsby recalled he scored two points in the first half, helping his team to a 34-30 halftime lead, and missed his only 3-point field-goal attempt while playing seven minutes on a senior- and junior-laden team.
“I drove in and had a nice little floater, so I can say I scored in the (NCAA) tournament,” said a smiling Hornsby, who also had two rebounds and an assist. “Hopefully, I can say that much more this time around.”
Hornsby, who transferred to LSU one year later and averages 13.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in his first season with the Tigers, hopes to draw on that NCAA experience when he starts Thursday night against North Carolina State.
White it’s kind of ironic that he’ll be playing at the same site and staying in the same hotel he did three years ago, there is at least one big difference.
“It’s a different approach this time,” Hornsby said. “We’re not a 16 seed, I’m a nine seed so there’s a little bit of a difference there. But at the same time, it’s the same goal.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.