TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Tim Quarterman might have lost his starting job in the past four games, but he didn’t lose his confidence.
Not by a long shot.
When the LSU men’s basketball team needed someone to help it overcome a six-point deficit with less than 10 minutes remaining in an important road game Saturday against Alabama, Quarterman proved it.
The junior guard did it when the Tigers needed it most — producing key plays on both ends of the floor in the final 75 seconds of a thrilling 72-70 win.
Quarterman gave LSU a lead for the first time in the second half at 70-69 when he connected on two free throws after drawing a foul on his way to the basket with 1:15 to play.
Then he scored what turned out to be the winner with 34 seconds left when he drove the lane again and missed a short floater but stayed with it to get the offensive rebound and softly drop the ball into the net.
Quarterman was far from finished at that point.
When Alabama had a chance to force overtime, the 6-foot-6 Quarterman contested a driving layup by 6-2 guard Retin Obasohan with 17 seconds left, then teamed with Keith Hornsby to pressure Obasohan when Bama’s leading scorer got another crack at it with 7 seconds remaining.
“Obviously, we know what Tim can do,” Hornsby said. “We know how good of a defender he is because he knows how to use his length. He was aggressive on offense, but he didn’t really force the issue. He made good plays for us and hit some free throws there when we needed them.”
Quarterman, who finished with 11 points in 32 minutes, said it went back to the unwavering faith his teammates have in him as a veteran floor leader. Not lost in that is the encouragement he received from freshman Ben Simmons.
“My team has a great deal of confidence in me,” said Quarterman, who a week earlier didn’t score while playing just 10 minutes against Arkansas. “Ben coming up to me and telling me to be the leader of the team is big. He’s the No. 1 player in the country and he looks up to me, so it means a lot to me.”
It meant something Saturday when LSU came back after not holding the lead for about 20½ minutes.
Quarterman earned a start in the second half after giving the Tigers a little spark in the first half, and he never came out.
He had a steal and fed Simmons for a dunk early in the second half to cut Bama’s lead to one, then drained a 3-pointer on an assist from Simmons to tie the score at 50 with 13½ minutes left.
After an Alabama surge netted a six-point advantage, the Tide’s largest lead, with just under 10 minutes left, Quarterman was back at it with a pass to Simmons that ended in a layup to even things at 62.
“Tim is a big part of out team,” said Simmons, who had 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists. “If we want to win, we need him to be a leader and always be a positive force for us. Every time he comes to play like that, we do well. He brings the energy, and I feed off him.”
Quarterman benefited as well from Simmons. When Obasohan tied the score at 70, Simmons cleared out the lane and fired a pass to Quarterman cutting to the rim for the winning field goal.
“That last basket was Ben having trust in me because he was having a great game and they couldn’t stop him,” Quarterman said. “That’s the confidence he has in me, and I was able to make a play for our team. I just have to be a spark for the team when I get in there.”
Coach Johnny Jones certainly was impressed.
“He made some huge plays,” he said after LSU won in Coleman Coliseum for the first time in the past 11 tries. “He made that the basket, the free throws and he had the defensive stops.
“Tim’s played hard. He’s made the necessary adjustments and commitment needed to be able to impact our team in a positive way. We all know that he’s an excellent player, but we want him to be at his best. So we have to always make sure he’s continuing to grow.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.