A leftover bugaboo from LSU’s basketball season a year ago – porous defense especially at the 3-point line – made an ill-timed guest appearance Saturday.
Despite some torrid offense down the stretch from freshman guard Cam Thomas, the Tigers couldn’t overcome sizzling 62 percent second half shooting by Saint Louis in an 85-81 loss in the Billiken Classic.
LSU (1-1) trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half but cut the Saint Louis (2-0) lead to 80-79 with 47 seconds left on a physical drive through traffic by Thomas.
But with the shot clock about to expire on the ensuing Billikens’ possession, LSU junior guard Javonte Smart fouled Saint Louis’ Javonte Perkins on a corner 3-point attempt. Perkins made all three free throw attempts to extend the lead to 83-79 with 17 seconds left.
After a follow up shot by LSU junior forward Darius Days left the St. Louis lead at 83-81 with eight seconds left, the Tigers called timeout.
But after the timeout, LSU allowed four seconds to run off the clock before fouling Perkins again. He drained the last two free throws of his game-high 32-point performance.
“We gave ourselves a chance to win at the end, but we just couldn’t get the stop and the loose ball when we needed it,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “They (Saint Louis) made some threes (8 in the second half) but the big issue was we gave up 10 layups. We can’t give up the layups and the threes.”
Eight times in the game’s final 7:23, LSU cut the lead to three points. And every time, Saint Louis countered with either 3-pointers or layups.
The Tigers wouldn’t have been in the thick of the fight if it wasn’t for Thomas and sophomore forward Trendon Watford combining to score 37 of LSU’s second-half 53 points.
Watford scored 18 of his 24 points after intermission. Most of points were on tough drives to the basket that drew contact, resulting in his 7 of 9 free throw accuracy.
Thomas, who scored 27 points in LSU’s season opening win Thursday over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, picked up two fouls in the first four minutes vs. Saint Louis, and spent the first half in an offensive funk scoring just four points.
He finished with 25 points, scoring 21 in the second half including 17 in the final 8:37 when he hit seven straight shots including four 3’s.
“Our guys did a great job of finding him,” Wade said of Thomas. “It’s no coincidence our offense bogged down in the first half when he isn’t out there because of foul trouble. It’s not just he’s making shots, but when he’s out there defenses have to account for him. He opens driving lanes for our team.”
Smart added 18 points for the Tigers, making 6 of 8 shots including 3 of 4 3s. Junior forward Darius Days, who had a career-high 24 points in Thursday’s season-opening win, scored just 9 points as he missed all five of his 3-point attempts.
Days grabbed 11 rebounds, yet Saint Louis handled LSU on boards 30-22. The Tigers didn’t grab their first offensive rebound until Days collected a Thomas miss and scored with 15:25 left in the second half.
“If we want to be the team we want to be, we’ve got to dig in defensively and be a bit better on the glass,” Wade said. “They (Saint Louis) is a big-time rebounding team.”
LSU opens its home season Monday night at 7 vs. Southeastern Louisiana.