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After the Tigers lost 86-76, Brown stayed awake in the Anchorage darkness for hours, finally knocking on hotel doors and talking to his men about defeat and dedication and all the rest. The next day the seniors, chagrined and angered, yet exhilarated at the same time by the performance of their backups, led Georgetown by more than 20 points before coasting to a 76-67 win. "I don't think teams ordinarily learn from losing," Brown says. "But we learned from that loss."
In the 11 weeks since, LSU hasn't lost a game, and the hydra-headed Tiger attack has had six different leading scorers. Sims, a New Yorker and third-generation Jew who starred at the 1977 Maccabiah Games, where he was known as "The Black Jet," scored 22 points in 25 minutes against Kentucky. Martin is the sloe-eyed floor leader, of whom it has been noted that if Georgetown's Sleepy Floyd is asleep, this guy is Rip Van Winkle. The clever, quick-handed Martin steals the ball all over the lot on defense and directs things from the point on offense, but the Tigers don't have to depend on him entirely because there's also freshman Johnny Jones.
"The Bullet," as Brown calls Jones after the fashion of "the Pistol," LSU's faded legend, Pete Maravich, happens to be able to pop off the pines at any moment without much change in the LSU pace. Alabama was leading LSU by 12 points in the second half at Tuscaloosa before Jones went in, got three baskets and three steals, then departed, with the Tigers on the way to a 59-56 victory.
In the forecourt, Scales' departure surely did much for the development of Macklin. Sims, who was Scales' roommate, says DeWayne was always jealous of Macklin, LSU's first star frontcourt player since Bob Pettit—until Rudy broke an anklebone and had to sit out most of the 1978-79 season. Only now, as team captain with added responsibility, are Macklin's inside scoring and vicious offensive rebounding skills coming to fruition. Over the last six games he has averaged 21.7 points and 12.7 rebounds. "The Louisville game haunts us," says Rudy, a Louisville native. "It will continue to haunt us until we get back to the regional."
For all of Macklin's heroics (and his legacy should endure because Mitchell seems to be his younger, stronger, potentially better clone), LSU's best all-round player is a little-known sophomore swingman named Howard (Hi-C) Carter. Hi-C played in 70 straight winning games for Baton Rouge's Redemptorist Senior High without receiving more than passing glances from the flesh hunters.
Now he is 6'5", 230 pounds of versatility, handling roles from center on defense to hit man in LSU's devastating 2-1-2 and 3-2 spread delay offenses, whose primary option, no matter how many minutes pass, is to get Carter isolated one-on-one. When that happens, school is routinely out.
"I've always questioned Howard's one-step quickness," says LSU assistant Rick Huckabay, who coached Carter in high school. "He just doesn't have it. But you let him get in motion, get two steps, and everything good happens." Earlier this season Florida's Vernon Delancy made mention of Carter's girth. In reply, Hi-C—the Tigers' best defender—held Delancy to four points in the second half while contributing game-high stats of 25 points and 15 rebounds himself.
"Once you start getting publicity, you can't go out and mess up," Carter says. A new mark of the new Tigers is that Carter also says, "But Sims, everybody knows he should be starting. Who should sit down? Myself."
Sims, who has been through all the stormy weather at LSU and is now averaging 10.2 points in 20.6 minutes of playing time, smiles at that. "You get us together and this time it's a team" he says. "We don't hug like last year but we mean more to each other. The coach is mellowed out now, too. There's not so much intensity. In the past he had us in the NCAA finals before February. We had motivational T shirts—THE BEST PART OF ME IS WE. He had us playing so physical. 'Anybody goes up the middle, make 'em see the lights in the ceiling.' That kind of stuff. Dwight Anderson of Kentucky went up the middle against us and came back with a broken wrist. LSU is more finesse now. We're more likable. We're older. We've been through a lot. We're ready to go all the way."
LSU is such an experienced, confident, comfortable crew this time around that its formerly rope-tight coach has cast aside his demagogue's oratory, at least temporarily. He unwinds into the kind of funny storytelling character of another ski-nosed entertainer, Bob Hope. Ever the showman, Brown, before the Kentucky game, instructed the Tigers to "relax, look at the people in the stands and what they're wearing. Enjoy the spectacle. Feel the sensuality of all this." After which LSU went out and treated the proud 'Cats like practice fodder.