Ben Simmons dominated the first half. Josh Gray handled the second. And for the entire 40 minutes, LSU dunked and defended its way to a 91-69 win over Kennesaw State in the first round of the Legends Classic, held in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Simmons paced the No. 19 Tigers (2-0) with 22 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, and two blocks, scoring 14 in the first half. Gray, coming off the bench after serving a one-game suspension in LSU’s opener vs. McNeese, tossed in 16 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds as well. Antonio Blakeney (14 points, 4-of-8 shooting) and Aaron Epps (10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) rounded out the double-figure scorers for LSU, who shot 50.8% from the field and assisted 21 times to just 8 turnovers.
For Simmons, SEC Player of the Year and a First Team All-American in the preseason, Monday’s scoring output was double his 11-point debut against McNeese State, when he took just seven shots. He surpassed that total against Kennesaw State before the second media timeout and finished 11-of-17 from the field.
“I was just staying aggressive and trying to keep the momentum up,” he said. “I realized I only took seven shots last game and I was kind of shocked about that…I just have to do what I have to do and play my role.”
Kendrick Ray’s 25 points paced Kennesaw State, but LSU limited Owl leading scorer Yonel Brown, who scored 34 against Alabama last week, to 11 points on just 4 of 14 shooting. The Owls shot just 37.5% from the field for the night, turning the ball over 17 times against the Tigers’ high-pressure approach.
LSU raced to a 44-21 halftime lead, taking control of the contest with a 24-2 run spanning 8:52. As they held the Owls to missed on their last 12 shots of the half, the Tigers connected on six of their final nine shots, including three thrilling dunks – one each from Simmons, Blakeney, and Quarterman – to energize the crowd and deflate the visitors.
Kennesaw State scored the first eight points of the second half, and it looked as if LSU was set to let another large lead shrink, as was the case in the exhibition game and the season opener. Ray’s layup with 18:13 left in the game pulled the Owls within 44-28.
But Gray gave LSU the necessary shot in the arm off the bench, scoring 14 second half points to keep the guests at bay. The Owls never crept closer than 20 after the 16-minute mark, and Simmons and co. continued their highlight show into the closing minutes.
Gray’s debut proved crucial to LSU’s success. The Tigers remain without senior guard Keith Hornsby, and with Brandon Sampson (8 points, 1-of-7 shooting) and Jalyn Patterson (2 points, 1-of-3 shooting) unable to provide points in his absence, it was left to Gray, once the top scorer in the nation in junior college, to pick up the slack.
“He had an all-around game in running this team,” said LSU head coach Johnny Jones. “That’s something we look forward to if we can get that type of productivity out of our point guards, whether it’s Tim (Quarterman, who scored 9 points in 20 minutes) or Josh who played 22 minutes tonight. That’s huge for us. If we can get both of our quarterbacks, our points, to play that way, we have a lot of great things in store for us.”
The Tigers return to action Thursday against South Alabama at home, before resuming the Legends Classic on Monday in Brooklyn against Marquette
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