O’Bryant leads LSU past No. 11 Kentucky
To think what Johnny O’Bryant III would have missed if he had turned pro last year, as many thought he might.
Instead, the junior forward will be remembered at LSU for leading the Tigers to an upset of No. 11 Kentucky on a day that normally balmy Baton Rouge froze over.
O’Bryant scored 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and LSU surprisingly led wire-to-wire in an 87-82 victory Tuesday night.
“I really tried to attack them,” the 6-foot-9, 256-pound O’Bryant said. “I knew that they were young guys and I had an advantage in experience and body-wise. I was going at them all night.”
Jordan Mickey scored 14 points and blocked five shots for LSU (13-6, 4-3 SEC), which put on a show for an estimated 6,000-plus fans who made it to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center despite unusual winter weather that coated roads with ice. Hustling and active on the defensive end, LSU blocked 11 shots and helped force 13 Kentucky turnovers.
“We needed this game really bad,” Mickey said. “Our crowd was great to come out in this type of weather. They brought a lot of energy to the team.”
Shavon Coleman added 14 points for the Tigers, who outshot the Wildcats 51 percent (32 of 63) to 44 percent (32 of 73).
James Young scored 23 points and Dakari Johnson had 15 for Kentucky (15-5, 5-2), which has seen all five of its losses come away from home, including two straight road losses in the Southeastern Conference.
Although Kentucky’s flight back to Lexington wasn’t scheduled until Wednesday, coach John Calipari couldn’t get out of the arena fast enough. Barely 15 minutes after the game ended, he had already answered a few questions from reporters and hustled his team onto the bus.
“When the other team outworks you, this is what it looks like,” Calipari said. “It was amazing we were in the game. We got down 16; it could have been 30.
“This team is in progress,” Calipari continued. “The process we are at right now is, will we have the mental toughness to break through and be the kind of team we want to be?”
Aaron Harrison had 14 points and Alex Poythress added 10 for the Wildcats, who have to go right back on the road Saturday at Missouri.
While Kentucky is usually one of the biggest draws of any basketball season at LSU, south Louisiana was blasted by freezing rain which forced the closure of numerous bridges and long, elevated sections of Interstate 10 on both sides of Baton Rouge.
The result was a half-empty arena that belied the paid attendance of 12,124. The student sections, however, were jammed from first row courtside to the last row near the stadium’s domed roof. Classes had been cancelled, and perhaps as an antidote to cabin fever, the students showed up energized, and it appeared contagious.
“The energy was in the building,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “I thought we had a great chance of playing well.”
The Tigers started fast, making nine of their first 12 shots and led 22-6 after Mickey’s free throws. Kentucky, by contrast, made only four of its first 12 shots and turned the ball over five times in the first 5 minutes.
LSU “was just playing harder than us. They were hitting a lot of shots, a lot of open 3s,” Johnson said. “They just broke us down a lot defensively.”
O’Bryant set the tone with 15 first-half points on 6of 9 shooting. Jones praised the way O’Bryant balanced his shot selection from both inside and out, and the patience he showed against double-teams.
“For him to have an opportunity to play like that means a great deal because of the time and energy he’s put in,” Jones said. “To see his hard work pay off means a lot.”
The Tigers led by six at halftime, but opened the second half with Jarell Martin’s layup and Mickey’s jumper to push their lead back to double digits. Later, consecutive 3s by Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer made it a 14-point game with 12:51 to go.
Kentucky had trouble stringing together a game-turning run, and did not pull within single digits until Aaron Harrison’s 3 made it 83-76 with 43 seconds left.
LSU answered with free throws by Hickey and one last fast-break layup by O’Bryant to seal it.