O'Bryant got the better of UK's Randle (USA Today)
In a game the Tigers desperately needed, junior forward Johnny O'Bryant answered the call. Fueled by a series of mid-range jumpers and low-post moves, O'Bryant poured in 29 points in LSU's upset of No. 11 Kentucky.
Turns out no postponement was the best thing that ever happened to LSU.
Despite an avalanche of warning signs, the game that Mother Nature did her damnedest to delay went on as scheduled, and by the time the dust settled Tuesday night on the Tigers’ 87-82 upset win over No. 11 Kentucky, the Red Stick’s great outdoors wasn’t the only place treated to a wintry mix.
Junior forward Johnny O’Bryant dazzled onlookers in the House that Pete Built, posting a game-high 29 points and throwing a versatile inside-out game at the Wildcats, which had no answers for the LSU post player.
The Cleveland, Miss., native enjoyed arguably his best game in the purple and gold, certainly his most diverse offensive display. O’Bryant rained mid-range jumpers over Kentucky forwards Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson. He drop-stepped and put in half-hooks with both hands. He got inside of 7-foot Wildcat center Willie Cauley-Stein for offensive rebounds and putbacks. He finished transition runs with thunderous dunks.
In short O’Bryant emptied his arsenal during the nationally televised game, showing his bag of tricks was more hefty-sized than zip-lock.
“I thought his balance was good,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said following the game. “I thought he did an excellent job of going inside. He hit a few jumpers outside, forced them to try to defend him a different way. Initially they wanted to try and show him single coverage. Inside he did a great job of taking advantage of that. When they doubled, I thought he did an excellent job of being patient and passing out of it.”
The man pacing, and more often than not stomping incredulously on the other sideline, Kentucky coach John Calipari, made no bones about the fact he screwed up in his approach to dealing with O’Bryant.
“Johnny O’Bryant killed us. We started the game, and I didn’t want to trap. I wanted to see what could happen,” Calipari reflected. “That was probably a mistake on my part. We should have trapped from the beginning of the game.”
In O’Bryant’s mind the opportunity to get back in the win column following a disappointing loss at Alabama was important. However, the reigning first-team All-SEC player had a smile on his face when he revealed the other reason this game meant so much to him.
“Since I’ve been here, Kentucky has beat up on us pretty good,” explained O’Bryant. “All the hype Kentucky has every year, to get a win against a team like that is just a great thing. It was probably one of the best wins since I’ve been here.”
Selfishly O’Bryant also wanted to continue to distance himself from a four-game funk he went through from Jan. 4 – 15, a span during which JOB averaged 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds, both well below his season and career averages.
“I think going on that drought I went on and just constantly watching film, constantly trying to figure out what I could do to get out of it,” O’Bryant responded when asked how he’s improved his play of late. “Also, my coaches were telling me ‘You’ve got to have fun on the court.’ That’s what I’ve been trying to do the last couple of games.”
Perhaps the best news for Jones and LSU is that the energy and focus O’Bryant is bringing has begun to permeate through to the rest of his Tiger teammates, especially the freshmen that are only seven games into their SEC lives.
“Johnny, he goes hard,” first-year forward Jarell Martin said postgame. “He’s a great leader, and he wanted this win. His effort tonight transferred over to the whole team. We wanted to play like Johnny.”
None of this was lost on Calipari.
“When the other team outworks you, this is what it looks like,” continued Calipari. “It was amazing we were in the game. We got down 16. It could have been 30.”
Amazingly enough given O’Bryant’s time on campus, when fair questions of discipline and number-hunting have been raised from time to time, he was the one leading the charge in a game LSU (13-6, 4-3) had to have.
In the end maybe Johnny himself summed it up with the understatement of the night. “Twenty-nine points, that’s not bad against a team like Kentucky.”
No, it’s certainly not. And should the Tigers achieve any level of postseason success this campaign, it’s likely they’ll look back on a game that almost didn’t happen as the impetus.
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