By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Down nine with five minutes to play, LSU looked well on its way to a valiant loss to Michigan in Maui.
Tremont Waters had other plans.
The Tigers’ electric freshman point guard scored 21 points – 15 in the second half and nine in the final five minutes – as LSU surged back behind a sequence of late stops and clutch shots to knock off Michigan 77-75 in the first round of the Maui Invitational. Skylar Mays followed Waters’ game-tying step-back jumper with a steal and a slam – on the receiving end of a no-look assist from Waters – to complete the Tigers (3-0) comeback.
“I’m so proud of our players,” said head coach Will Wade. “We turned the page on our program tonight.”
LSU entered the locker room leading 31-29 after 20 minutes, led by 9 points off the bench by Aaron Epps and a stingy defense that held the Wolverines to 41 percent shooting.
Back to back threes from Brandon Sampson and Tremont Waters saw LSU build an early six-point lead. Charles Matthews scored seven of Michigan’s first nine points, pulling Michigan within 13-9 at the second media timeout on an 18-footer.
Epps scored seven of LSU’s nine points over a five-minute stretch, and a 25-foot three from Waters put LSU up seven with five minutes left in the half. But turnovers plagued the Tigers for the entirety of the half, coughing the ball up 10 times: four from Waters and three from Skylar Mays. Moritz Wagner scored seven of his nine first-half points over the final six minutes to keep Michigan close.
The Wolverines drew level with 13 seconds left in the period on a layup from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, but Wade called timeout and drew up a set to get Mays a layup at the buzzer for the halftime advantage.
After a Sampson three, LSU got a pair of highlight-worthy plays from Sampson and Waters. The former spun baseline for a high-flying slam, and the latter spun through a host of Michigan defenders in transition and sunk a spinning layup while falling to the floor, putting the Tigers up five at the first media timeout.
A Matthews tip in keyed Michigan’s 7-0 run to take its first lead of the game, 55-53 with 8:52 remaining, forcing Wade to call timeout. Wagner answered with a three for a 10-0 run before Reath hit a free throw to snap a 2:24 scoreless drought.
Michigan’s edge stretched to nine when Matthews buried a pair of free throws, but Waters answered with six straight, a three-point play and a 25-foot step back, cutting LSU’s deficit to three, 68-65, with four minutes remaining. Wagner’s three-pointer with 3:16 to go pushed Michigan ahead by six again, but a Sims layup and an Epps three after a scramble made it a one-point game with two minutes to go.
LSU tied it, after a Michigan free throw, on a Waters step back, and Mays promptly stole the ball back, sending Waters diving on the floor for the loose ball. The freshman found it and threw a no-look pass over his head to a wide-open Mays, who flushed home a reverse slam to seal victory with 1:14 left. The Tigers got a needed stop on the other end, and Waters iced the game off with a final free throw for good measure.
Player of the Game
Who else but Waters? The freshman dazzled, overcoming a sloppy start (four first half turnovers) to come through in the clutch for LSU. He added four assists to his team-high 21 points.
Play of the Game
Tremont Waters. ?. Part Three. Holy cow. pic.twitter.com/gnm2mxES3K
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) November 21, 2017
- 14: Aaron Epps points off the bench. His three-pointer with 2:10 left cut the Michigan lead from 4 to 1 to set up the dramatic finish.
- +11: Skylar Mays’ plus-minus, the best in the game. His steal and dunk proved the game-winning play.
- 59%: LSU shot 59% from the field, having entered the game first in the nation in effective field goal percentage.
- 2: The number of points LSU won by, and the number of points the Tigers picked up on the final play of the first half, when Will Wade called timeout to draw up a set.
- 52: Combined points scored by Charles Matthews (28) and Moritz Wagner (24) for Michigan.
- 3: Second half turnovers by LSU, after 11 in the first half.
Will Wade: “In the past we’d let that (lead) swell up and we’d have lost by 20, but we came back and gritted it out and found a way to win. So helps having a point guard like (Waters).”
Tremont Waters: “I’m going to have to say starting off, thanks to my teammates and coaches, and Father God, first of all, for letting all this happen. But overall we work hard in practice. Everything starts in practice. Our conditioning, our strength and conditioning overall with Coach Goldin, that sets our tone for our practice and going to practice and working on all our little things that we need to work on. Like that last defensive play. Skylar didn’t foul him. He put his hands straight up, and that led to a contested three at the end of the game and pretty much closed it out.”
LSU takes on No. 13 Notre Dame in round 2. Tipoff is set for 9:30 CST on ESPN Tuesday.