Baker pumps in 25 points, powers LSU to dominant win over Arkansas

Will Baker led the Tigers in scoring with 16 points in LSU's 88-68 loss to No. 6 Tennessee. PHOTO By LSU Athletics
LSU bombs Arkansas

Will “The Thrill” Baker lived up to his nickname bright and early on Saturday in the PMAC for LSU against Arkansas at just the right time for the Tigers.

In a pivotal game for LSU, coming off three-straight losses including a blowout loss on the road at Alabama, the Tigers desperately needed to turn things around with the bulk of the SEC still left to play for.

Baker delivered in a huge way.

But while Baker was clearly a catalyst for LSU’s offensive break out performance, he wasn’t alone.

LSU completely dominated Arkansas from start-to-finish, 95-74, turning in its best offensive performance in an SEC game under head coach Matt McMahon thus far in his two years at LSU.

LSU fell behind early, 2-0, but then went on a Baker-led 10-0 run and never looked back.

Arkansas, unlike LSU, tipped off Saturday in Baton Rouge thinking it had turned things around.

The Razorbacks were in the midst of an upswing, they thought, coming off a road win at Missouri where they poured in 95 points after battling Kentucky tooth-and-nail in a close loss the game before.  

But Baker and LSU had other plans and they executed those plans to near perfection.

Baker led a sizzling offensive onslaught for LSU with 25 points, including four 3 pointers in five attempts and Jalen Cook added 20 points as the Tigers completely dominated Arkansas all game long in every facet of the game, building a 28-point lead against the Hogs late in the second half.

“He did everything well,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said of Baker.

“He made threes, posted up, beat us off the dribble, I think it was probably a career night for him. I do not have his cumulative stats for his career in front of me, but I would assume that it is as good of a game he has played in his career.”

McMahon praised Baker’s effort but he pointed out that LSU overall execution cast the seven-footer into the spotlight.

“You could see he was feeling it early in this game,” McMahon said.

“But the spacing offensively, the movement of the ball, the execution from a screening standpoint was really good. And those shots were created for him by what I thought was terrific point guard play today from Trae Hannibal and Jalen Cook. We had elite point guard play today. And then, while Jordan Wright didn’t shoot the ball as well as we’re accustomed to, not only did he get to the line eleven times and make ten, but he has six assist and got guys open,” McMahon said.

A week after Alabama became the first LSU opponent to score more than 100 points, LSU (12-9, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) started slowly but then regrouped quickly to put together a 10-0 run and took a double-digit lead less than eight minutes into the game on a 3 by Baker to go up 20-7 and the Hogs never got within single digits the rest of the way.

LSU’s lead reached 28 points, 95-67, before Arkansas scored the game’s final seven points.

LSU shot 29 of 53 from the field (54.7%), including 12 of 23 from beyond the arc. Baker and freshman Mike Willams III each knocked down four 3-pointers and Cook added three more.

Baker had his highest scoring game since his 29 points against Mississippi Valley State in the season opener, hitting 9 of 11 shots from the floor.

Cook, who did not start for the first time since returning to the lineup in mid-December, scored 20 points for the third time this season. Cook has scored in double figures five consecutive games. Jordan Wright finished with 13 points, six rebounds and six assists and Williams added 13 points.

Tramon Mark led Arkansas (11-11, 2-7) with 20 points and six rebounds. Jalen Graham finished with 18 points and Makhi Mitchell added 10 points, three rebounds and four assists. Arkansas shot 24 of 55 from the field and was 3 of 13 from distance.

LSU beat Arkansas for the second straight game at Baton Rouge, but the Razorbacks had won four of the last five games in the series coming in.

LSU plays at No. 5 Tennessee Wednesday before facing No. 24 Alabama for the second time in its last four games.

WHAT THEY SAID

Forward Will Baker

On his start and feeling his shot right away…

“My teammates found me on a corner three. I got in a rhythm early and I definitely think that helped me. All credit to my teammates because they kept finding me when I was open. I just stepped in and shot it.”

On his three’s opening up the lane for attacking…

“Like (Jalen) Cook said, we have shooters so that allows us to space the floor. When you have threats like that it allows us to be able to drive and kick out to find more open looks. It just builds on itself. When one guy is a threat, he can drive and kick it to another shooter.”

Guard Jalen Cook

On being comfortable in the role that he was given and the effectiveness in the second half…

“I just wanted to come in and create a spark on both ends of the floor. I wanted to get all my teammates involved and I think I did a good job of that.”

On the ball movement in this game and how it feels when everything is clicking…

“We have a lot of talent on the team. We can spread it around. (Will) Baker can step out and shoot the three. We have a lot of three-point shooters. Mike Williams can shoot it. We have some shooters, so we just try space the floor out and attack.”

Arkansas Head Coach Eric Musselman

On what (Will) Baker was doing well and how tough it is to recover from that on the road…

“He did everything well. He made threes, posted up, beat us off the dribble, I think it was probably a career night for him. I do not have his cumulative stats for his career in front of me, but I would assume that it is as good of a game he has played in his career.”

On what got LSU off to the hot start, and how they will address it moving forward…

“It is defending the three and the dribble drive. We are not doing either. If we were, we would probably have a better record. It is our job to get players to improve. It is our job to get players to follow the game plan. We have not been good defending the three all year. You cannot compare teams of the past, but we are doing the same drills, but the execution come game time is just not there.”

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