Darius Days walked into the media room a bit earlier than his teammates, sporting a brand new shirt and hat, colored purple and gold and emblazoned with “LSU: 2019 SEC Men’s Champions”
“This feels amazing, y’all,” Days said before sitting down. “Wow.”
Days had a career performance, hitting five 3-pointers for a career-high 15 points in the No. 10 LSU basketball team’s dominant 80-59 victory against Vanderbilt that secured sole possession of the Southeastern Conference regular season championship for the Tigers, their first title in a decade.
The Tigers showed up in a raucous Pete Maravich Assembly Center crowd that spent about as much time booing as it did cheering and defeated Vanderbilt to earn sole possession of the Southeastern Conference regular season championship.
The championship-clinching victory came without head coach Will Wade (suspension), guard Javonte Smart (precautionary measures) and forward Naz Reid (injury) in a game that saw as many stories unfold off the court than on it, if not more.
“We told the guys, we’ve been like this all year,” said LSU interim head coach Tony Benford. “Sometimes they’ve got to block out the peripheral then when you get on that court, you’ve got to stay focused. I think our guys, they’ve had blinders on, so to speak. Tunnel vision. Just lock in on your job, do your job.”
Most of the boos showering the PMAC weren’t directed at Vanderbilt or even the officiating crew, but at LSU administrators, most notably and directly athletics director Joe Alleva amid Wade’s suspension after a Yahoo Sports report emerged Thursday that cited a conversation wiretapped by the FBI which seemingly contained LSU’s second-year head coach discussion benefits for Smart’s commitment to the program.
Chants echoing in the PMAC included “Free Will Wade” and “Free Javonte” and “Joe Must Go,” referring to LSU athletics director Joe Alleva, who co-signed the original statement announcing Wade’s suspension along with LSU president F. King Alexander.
Wade has seemingly denied any and all allegations that he participated in improper recruiting, saying in a state me that the reports and recorded conversations “do not begin to tell the full story.”
As a result of the swirling controversy, LSU opted to sit Javonte Smart in the season finale citing an “abundance of caution,” in a news release Saturday afternoon.
If things seemingly couldn’t get any worse, Naz Reid also missed the game due to an injury sustained at the end of LSU’s 79-78 overtime victory against Florida, an LSU official told Tiger Rag prior to the game.
After the game, Benford confirmed Reid is expected to be back in action in LSU’s first SEC Tournament game on Friday.
“Naz (Reid) is fine. Naz is just protocol. He should be fine. He got hit in the face, so he was just recovering from that. Naz will be fine. Naz will be ready to go (for the SEC Tournament).”
Despite all the whirlwind of headlines and controversy, LSU came out and played one of its most complete games of the season to clinch sole possession of the SEC crown.
It all started with a first half in which LSU’s biggest playmakers came off the bench.
Days hit four 3-pointers and Marshall Graves — who didn’t even have a scholarship until December — hit three more to help lift the Tigers to a 43-28 lead at the halftime break.
“It felt amazing, just as you would expect,” Graves said. “It s just a special blessing to play with this team. It is easy to have confidence and play well when you have great teammates behind you and great coaches that believe in you.”
The second half followed suit, as the Tigers kept the Commodores from scoring for nearly four minutes to start the half, and LSU coasted to its championship-clinching 16th SEC win of the season.
Darius Days finished the game with five 3-pointers for a team-high 15 points.
“I was just getting open,” Days said. “We kept executing. Coach always told me to shoot the ball with confidence, and that is what I did tonight.”
Tremont Waters helped the Tigers in scoring with 14 points to go with three assists and four rebounds, followed by Skylar Mays with 13 points. Graves finished the game tallying 12 points apiece.
Mays referred to Waters as “a coach on the floor,” as Benford apparently handed the sophomore point guard the reins.
“He gave me the keys to the car, and I pretty much had to drive it where we wanted to drive it,” Waters said. “Like I said before, having these types of guys around me, it makes it easy for a point guard to do what he has to do.”
Kavell Bigby-Williams also had a solid senior-night performance, tallying four dunks in a 10-point, 11-rebound performance in his seventh double-double .
LSU will enjoy a double-bye in the SEC Tournament as the top seed, and it will play its next game Friday at noon in Nashville, Tenn.
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