LSU came roaring out of the gate opening a 22-point lead in the game’s first nine minutes, then held off a Southern Illinois-Edwardsville rally in the second half for a 94-81 season-opening victory Thursday night in the Billiken Classic in St. Louis.
Freshman guard Cam Thomas scored a game-high 27 points, junior forward Darius Days added 24 points, sophomore Trendon Watford had a near triple-double with 13 points, a career-high 9 assists and 7 rebounds and junior point guard Javonte Smart contributed 10 points and 5 assists.
The Tigers (1-0), who play St. Louis Saturday at 2 p.m., led SIUE (0-2) 49-34 at halftime. LSU’s lead shrinked to two points three times before an 11-0 run starting with Days three-point play gave LSU breathing room heading into the game’s last five minutes.
“We were able to knock some of the rust off today,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “Our offense is ahead of our defense. The first eight to 10 minutes we guarded really well, and then we started getting split in the gaps. We relaxed a bit.”
Thomas finished 10 of 21 from the field, including 4 of 9 3-pointers and was 3-of-4 from the free throw line.
His points seemed to come in bunches, like a two-minute stretch in the first half when scored 11 of LSU’s 15 points including three 3s and early in the second half when he scored eight consecutive Tigers’ points.
“Cam was phenomenal, our guys look for him,” Wade said. “He shot almost 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from three, he got to the free throw line and he attacked the paint. That’s what we want.”
Days had 14 of LSU’s first 22 points in the game’s opening eight minutes hitting four of his 3-point attempts. He also scored seven points in a two-minute stretch in the second half when the Tigers finally slowed the SIUE comeback.
“Darius did a great job the first half knocking down the threes and in the second half he got inside and imposed his will,” Wade said.
All 20 of LSU’s bench points came from players making their debuts with the Tigers.
Freshmen guards Eric Gaines and Jalen Cook scored 7 and 5 points respectively with Cook adding 5 assists in 10 minutes of play. Freshman forward Mwani Wilkinson had 3 points and a steal. Redshirt sophomore transfer Shareef O’ Neal had 3 points and 5 rebounds in 13 minutes and sophomore transfer center Bryan Penn-Johnson had 2 points and a rebound.
LSU shot 51.7 from the field, scoring 30 baskets on 19 assists. The Tigers also had five players nail 12 3-points with 46.2 percent accuracy and hit 22 of 26 free throws (84.6 percent) led by Watford’s 9 of 10.