There was no late breakdown for LSU this time as the Tigers finally put away a Top 25 opponent with a 75-57 victory against No. 24 Furman.
The previously undefeated Paladins didn’t have an answer for the Tigers’ (9-3) size or defense as LSU won the rebounding battle 39-22 and forced 17 turnovers on the game.
Furman basketball coach Bob Richey said LSU’s size and talent was something the Paladins hadn’t yet seen this season.
“They’ve got more stars in some of these recruits than the Big Dipper,” Richey said.”You’ve got guys that are huge, so they did what they do.”
It didn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet, but Kavell Bigby-Williams was a big reason the Tigers led at the break with his defensive effort, primarily on Furman senior forward Matt Rafferty.
His effort limited Rafferty — who entered the game averaging 17.3 points per game — to 2 for 4 from the field for 5 points and just a single assist.
Rafferty finished the game with just nine points, four rebounds and two assists, all below his season averages in those statistics.
“Kavell was huge,” Wade said. “What most teams have to do, they have to commit two people to (Rafferty) to stop him. Then they’re playing 4-on-3 with all those shooters. It’s just a matter of which one of those players is going to get open.
“Kavell did a great job. He followed the scouting report, he watched extra film. He was really locked into stopping him.”
Bigby-Williams finished the game with his second double-double of the season tallying 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Tremont Waters came off the bench for a second consecutive game and once again, despite a couple uncharacteristic turnovers, put together a solid performance with 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
Despite entering the season as one of LSU’s most highly-rated players that even took a look at what the NBA may have to offer him, Waters said he’s perfectly comfortable off the bench.
Wade said he doesn’t care as much about who starts as who finishes, and Waters has been as consistent as he’s been all season off the bench in LSU’s last two games.
“For my team, I don’t mind,” Waters said. “Obviously, no one wants to come off the bench, but that’s what I have to do. Coach said my time will come back around and I will get back in the starting lineup.
“Basically, the flow of our team is just that we’re going hard in practice. Everyone is getting better. From here, we’re just going to keep moving forward.”
Waters didn’t come off the bench simply because of his performance.
Wade liked his bigger lineup against the Paladins, and it worked like a charm as the Tigers nearly doubled the Paladins up on the boards and LSU scored 50 of its 75 points in the paint.
“Starting bigger has helped us,” Wade said. “When you have Marlon (Taylor) at the 3 and Naz (Reid) at the 4 and Kavell (Bigby-Williams) at the 5, those are some big guys. I thought it was important at the beginning of the game to show (the Paladins) some more resistance than they had seen.”
LSU held a 31-27 lead after the first half, thanks in large part to a 20-11 rebounding margin in its favor.
But the Tigers turned the ball over 14 times before the break keeping the Paladins in the game the Tigers otherwise dominated.
“They scored 13 of their 27 points in the first half off our turnovers,” said LSU coach Will Wade. “Our turnovers are loud turnovers, too, where we’re just handing them the ball and giving them a runway to go lay it in.”
The Tigers came out strong and fast in the second half, going on a 12-3 run to take a 43-30 lead before the first media timeout.
Furman quickly found its stroke, however, hitting 3’s from all around the perimeter to cut that lead to five, prompting LSU coach Will Wade to burn multiple timeouts.
But the Tigers bounced back and quickly put their lead back to double-digits and kept that lead around the 10-point margin for much of the second half.
They also fixed their turnover problem in the second half, giving the ball up just three times in the second 20-minute period, allowing the Tigers to pull away in the final minutes of the game with some big plays from Skylar Mays (16 points, three assists, two rebounds) and Waters.
Marlon Taylor once again showed off his elite athleticism multiple times, first with an alley-oop dunk in the first half in which he had to duck to avoid hitting his head on the rim, then with a posterizing dunk in the second half over multiple Furman defenders. He finished the game with eight points and three rebounds.
The win marked the Tigers’ first win against a team in the Associated Press Top 25 this season after heartbreaking losses against Florida State and Houston earlier in the year.
“It’s huge playing against a Top 25 team,” Mays said. “IT helps us to play inspired. It is just another win we can add to our resume and look back at and see our progress.”
A seemingly off-topic note but one that held a lot of weight at the end of Wade’s press conference came when he announced that junior Marshall Graves will now play on scholarship.
“Marshall’s on scholarship now,” Wade said. “He’s earned it. His dad signed the papers tonight.”
The scholarship was available due to the tragic death of former LSU forward Wayde Sims, a teammate of Graves both at LSU and at University High.
“Wayde would be proud,” Wade said. “It’s Wayde’s scholarship. He’d be proud to have Marshall on it.”