The LSU basketball team will get one more chances to take down a Top 25 team Friday at 7 p.m. when it plays host to No. 24 Furman, a team the Tigers didn’t expect would be such a significant challenge prior to the start of the season.
The Paladins (12-0) have emerged as one of the hottest mid-major teams in the country after defeating half of last season’s Final Four with wins against Loyola-Chicago and, most notably, defending national champion Villanova.
LSU coach Will Wade admitted as much when he said he sent a text to Furman head coach Bob Richey that LSU (8-3) would have never scheduled the Paladins had it known they would be in the Top 25 entering the contest.
“They have a great team this year,” Wade said. “They’re certainly deserving of their Top 25 ranking. We’ll have to play one of if not our best game to give ourselves an opportunity.”
The game comes less than a week after LSU bounced back from a brutal 82-76 loss to then-No. 24 Houston with a much-needed 78-74 victory against St. Mary’s in Las Vegas.
For the first time in a couple weeks, LSU point guard Tremont Waters looked like himself as he came off the bench and played 30 minutes in which put together his pest performance of the season.
Waters shot 7 for 12 from the field and 3 for 5 from the 3-point line in an 18-point, three-assist, two-steal performance.
“Coach said he was going to start a bigger lineup, and I was perfectly fine with it,” Waters said. “I’m open to whatever my team needs me to do.
“It was an opportunity for me to get a different perspective on the game and watch how the game flowed. So when I went out there, I was able to pick apart the defense and do what I did.”
The Tigers also got a game-changing performance from Marlon Taylor.
Taylor may not have stuffed the stat sheet, recording just seven points and two rebounds, but he made multiple highlight plays on both sides of the ball.
On offense he abused the rim with multiple dunks, and, more importantly, he used his elite athleticism to make multiple big plays, including a blocked 3-pointer in which he started four-to-five feet from the shooter and another defensive play to close the game out in which he altered a potential game-tying shot with eight seconds left.
“He played a good defensive game against St. Mary’s,” Wade said of Taylor. “That was about as good a defensive play as you could see when he choked down on the roller then closed out and blocked the 3.”
The Paladins have as balanced a deep a roster as LSU has faced this season, and they do a good job playing inside through center Matt RAfferty.
Rafferty himself hoots 66.1 percent from the field to average 17.2 points per game, but he also sets his team up as he leads Furman with 55 assists on the season.
Most of those assists go to the 3-point line, where the Paladins average nearly 30 shots per game, meaning the Tigers will have to find a way to limit Rafferty, who acts as a point-center in the post, as well as the perimeter.
Shooting guard Jordan Lyons leads the Paladins in scoring with 18.2 ppg thanks in large part to the high volume of 3-pointers he takes.
Lyons has taken 194 shots this season, 141 of which came from behind the arc.
In his season-high performance, he shot 15 for 34 from the 3-point line (he only took one more field goal attempt in the entire game) for 54 points in a 107-67 win against North Greenville.
Wade said the game provides the Tigers with an unexpected mulligan; another chance to beat a ranked opponent — at home — before Southeastern Conference play begins.
“We blew some other opportunities,” Wade said. “We had some other Top 25 opponents against Florida State and Houston. Those were on neutral courts and on the road. We get a mulligan on those. We get another Top 25 team we weren’t expecting when we scheduled.”
Wade said Daryl Edwards — who will miss games on-and-off due to what Wade described earlier in the year as an inoperable bone injury — will not be available to play against the Paladins.