Freshman posts 22-14-7 line to keep LSU in SEC hunt
By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
On Senior Night, it was the freshman who earned the encore calls from the crowd.
“One more year!” the student section bellowed at Ben Simmons, shortly after his 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 assists led LSU past Missouri, 80-71, and into a do-or-die date with Kentucky on Saturday.
His coach and teammates echoed their sentiments shortly after in the postgame press conference.
LSU students to Ben Simmons: "One more year." pic.twitter.com/tpkUWpIT5h
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) March 2, 2016
“I’m hopeful there’s a slight chance he’ll be back,” Johnny Jones said. “I hope this isn’t a going away speech or anything.”
“I’m going to chant it,” added Tim Quarterman, who scored 11 points, dished out 6 assists, and didn’t turn the ball over in 25 minutes off the bench.
“We’ll see what happens,” answered Simmons.
If it was Simmons’ finale, it was quite the performance. He came out creating for others, handing out four first half assists as LSU (18-12, 11-6 SEC) built a 46-24 halftime lead. Antonio Blakeney scored 11 of his 18 in the first 20 minutes, hitting all six of his free throws. The Tigers assisted on 13 of their 18 first half field goals, tallying 20 dimes on 28 makes for the entire evening.
“We shared the ball tonight and had a lot of assists as a team,” said Quarterman. “It made our offense flow the whole game. I don’t think we went on spurts without scoring the ball. That’s good for upcoming games.”
But the hosting Tigers allowed the visitors (10-20, 3-14 SEC) to cut the 22-point deficit to as little as three. After holding Missouri to 35 percent shooting in the first half, LSU gave up 47 points on 60 percent shooting – including 6-for-12 from 3-point – in the second. K.J. Walton’s 3 with 4:48 left capped off a 12-2 Missouri run spanning 3:52 to trim the LSU lead to 65-62.
LSU closed strong, however, hitting four straight shots, including back-to-back 3s from Blakeney and Quarterman, to put the game on ice.
“One of the things we talked about after the game was that we probably didn’t get enough touches for (Blakeney} during that stretch when they made their run,” said Jones. “We weren’t patient enough moving the ball around and allowing him not necessarily to take shots, but he’s done a great job of putting pressure on opponents and making extra passes and plays and forcing the defense to have to shift”
Junior walk-on turned scholarship player Henry Shortess, playing in his last game thanks to a three-year graduation, ended the contest with the final dribbles and setting the stage for a showdown in Lexington on Saturday that could see LSU move to the top of the conference with a win and some help.
“It was kind of weird that the season is over at the PMAC,” said Simmons. “Knowing that we have one more game against Kentucky is huge. We’ll enjoy the moment now but we have to refocus for Saturday.”
- Simmons scored 20+ points for the fifth straight game, his longest such streak of the year. He also posted his sixth game of 20 point, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists, and tallied his Division 1-best 21st double double.
- Brandon Sampson provided a nice first half spark with 8 points off the bench. That was his highest output since Dec. 19 against American.
- LSU snapped a three-game streak of surrendering 50+ points in the second halves of games, but barely. The Tigers gave up 47 to Missouri, and have now surrendered an average of 52.5 points per second half in those games. (62 vs. Florida, 51 vs. Arkansas, 50 vs. Tennessee).
Johnny Jones on Ben Simmons:
“He’s always come to work. He’s been tremendous to coach and be around…If he does leave, he’s one of the guys I’ve thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed coaching. There’s not one thing I’d do different with him. He’s certainly fulfilled his promises with us. He never wavered from his commitment several years ago to us. We’ve taken a lot of shots as a program because of it, but he’s never wavered. The only thing he’s done is make this program better.”