The Sydney Kings of the National Basketball League pulled away with a 97-95 victory over touring American college basketball team the Louisiana State University Tigers in an enthralling encounter at The Sydney University Bryden’s Stadium on Sunday night, August 16.

It was the Tigers’ second game of their Australian tour and Sydney’s first pre-season hit out as they prepare for the 2015-16 NBL season.

There was a heightened buzz and atmosphere around the game due to LSU’s star freshman, Ben Simmons. Simmons, born in Newcastle and raised in Melbourne, is the number one prospect of the 2015 college class and is predicted to be the number one pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Many experts have compared Simmons’ athleticism, skillset and basketball IQ to that of current NBA superstar, LeBron James.

Despite missing key players, Josh Childress, Marcus Thornton and Tom Garlepp, the Sydney Kings were able to snatch the win after LSU guard Antonio Blakeney rimmed out a top of the key 3 pointer with seconds remaining and Simmons was unable to make a contested tip in as time expired. Sydney’s recent signing and NBL point guard veteran Steve Markovic made the go ahead basket for the Kings off a mid-range jump shot with 3.6 seconds remaining.

The crowd was thoroughly entertained as it was a fast pace, high scoring affair. Sydney jumped out to an early lead with crisp ball movement and decision making, leading 49-40 at the first half break. The Kings were led in the first half by their big men with LSU being unable to counter Julian Khazzoh’s crafty play and Angus Brandt’s sheer size and power in the low post. After finishing the first half with 12 points and 6 rebounds, Khazzoh was however forced out of the game in the second half with cramping and muscle stiffness. Tim Quartermen carried the load offensively in the first half for the Tigers, backed up by Simmons’ excellent play making.

The Tiger’s made the necessary defensive adjustments in the second half by attempting to double team the ball when Angus Brandt caught it near the basket. This allowed LSU to use their speed and athleticism in attempt to speed up the tempo of the game. These adjustments saw freshman guards Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson play their way into the game as they sparked LSU with their outside shooting and explosive finishing at the basket in the second half.

LSU clawed their way back into the game and it was very much basket for basket throughout most of the second half. Australian born, LSU starting centre Darcy Malone made a crucial lay-up off a nice pass from Quartermen to put the visitors up by three with just under 4 minutes to play.

Back-up forward Jeromie Hill finished an impressive 3 point play to tie the game at 95 with 34 seconds remaining. The following possession saw Sydney’s Jarrad Weeks draw a crucial offensive foul on LSU’s Tim Quartermen, giving Sydney the ball with 27 seconds to play and allowing Markovic to make the game winning play.

The way the game played out it was very much opposing styles of basketball. The Kings played a little slower and moved the ball around more, trying to use the ball-handling skills of their guards. Opposed to LSU’s style which was a lot more up-tempo, with more isolation offence in an attempt to use the advantage they had athletically. However, it was Sydney’s size and experience that prevailed in the end.

The game was a welcomed sight for Australian basketball enthusiasts who have heard all the hype being generated in the US about Simmons but haven’t been able to see him play in person as he completed his last 3 years of high school at Montverde Academy in Florida. Purely by watching Simmons warm up, it was evident he was a special athlete. His quickness and leaping ability is simply not seen by someone standing at 6ft10, weighing in at 105kg’s with long arms and huge hands.

Simmons played and carried himself like he was the best player on the court, despite being the second youngest player amongst either roster. He finished the game with 26 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds. His athleticism makes him talented yet his skillset and basketball IQ is what sets him apart from other players. Considering he has only been with the LSU program for a matter weeks you could see they already ran their offence through him and that he was their on court leader. Throughout most of the game he was marking Sydney’s centre defensively, while offensively dribbling it up and playing point guard for LSU, something rarely seen at any level of basketball.

Sydney Uni student Angus Brandt led the way for the Kings with 27 points and 13 rebounds, along with a standout performance from Jarrad Weeks, highlighted by his two handed fast break dunk and an electrifying block stopping a certain two points by the Tigers. Steve Markovic also added 17 points and four assists, including the game winning field goal.

Tim Quartermen was excellent for LSU, making numerous big plays on his way to scoring 24 points on 9-15 shooting. Simmons was also impressive showing his play making skill set in the first half, and his ability to score in the second. They, coupled with Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson’s 12 and 14 points respectively, kept the ball rolling for the visitors.

It was an excellent game of basketball and a great spectacle, made possible by all parties involved at LSU, the Sydney Kings, and through the behind the scenes work of the Sydney Uni Basketball Club and Sydney Uni Sports and Fitness.