Coming off a season-opening rout of Southeastern, LSU coach Will Wade implored his team — and his big men in particular — to expect a far more difficult test from UNC-Greensboro.
Facing an experienced mid major that has made each of the past three NCAA Tournaments, Wade’s young, talented team rose to the occasion.
Freshman forward Naz Reid poured in 29 points on 11-of-14 shooting as LSU held off a late charge from UNC-Greensboro to win 97-91 in a fast-paced shootout at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Friday night.
“It’s a huge win,” Wade said. “They’re an excellent team. They would never go away. If we want to fancy ourselves an NCAA Tournament team, that’s the kind of team we’d have to beat in the first round.”
Facing a full-court press, Tremont Waters posted a double-double with 20 points and 10 assists to go along with six steals. Fellow guard Javonte Smart added 13 points thanks to a perfect 8-for-8 night from the charity stripe. LSU shot 90.3 percent (28-for-31) on free throws.
“They did a hell of a job if you ask me,” Reid said his guards.
Reid showcased the offensive skillset that figure to make him a one-and-done player bound for the NBA. The rookie did damage from behind the arc, shooting 4-of-6 from 3-point range. He did damage in the post with acrobatic moves and unusual touch around the rim for a player his size.
“He’s a great shooter,” Wade said. “We see that every day. I know people haven’t seen that, but that’s what he does. He’s a phenomenal phenomenal shooter. I was really proud of him. He played a great floor game tonight. He took the wide-open threes when they were there and he drove that thing in the paint and just punished them.
“You can’t teach that.”
LSU ceased control of the game with a 15-2 run late in the first half. Led by Reid and Waters, LSU went to the rim at will during that spurt. The Tigers converted a pair of three-point plays and tallied 10 of those 15 points in the paint.
Aside from a handful of careless turnovers, LSU was both efficient and explosive at the offensive end in the first half. The Tigers shot 57 percent from the floor with 24 points in the paint en route to a 49-36 lead at the intermission.
Spotty perimeter defense allowed UNC-Greensboro to match LSU shot-for-shot through much of the second half. The visitors trimmed the lead to 91-85 in the final minute thanks to a 3-point barrage.
The Spartans finished 19-for-33 from 3-point range, tying the record for the most treys allowed by LSU at the PMAC. The other teams to pull it off were Florida in 2017 and North Florida in 2015.
Waters — with some help from Reid, who dove on the floor to bat the ball away — iced it with a steal and a free throw at the other end. Wade would have preferred his team put the game away sooner, but that kind of late-game experience can be invaluable for a young team.
“They had a lot of fight in them, and that’s something I respect a lot,” Reid said. “You’ve just got to have a lot of grit and grime (to close it out).”
LSU will be back in action on Tuesday night against Memphis. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. at the PMAC. Wade said to expect more of the same frenetic style against a Memphis team that pressed for 40 minutes like Arkansas in its heyday.