With six second remaining in a first half that saw Auburn drain 11 3-pointers and lead by as many as 16 points, Tremont Waters knew LSU had a chance to change the momentum.
Despite Auburn’s barrage of shots from behind the arc, LSU only trailed 41-35 and it could cut that lead to one possession if things broke the right way.
And the right way they broke.
LSU (19-4, 9-1 Southeastern Conference) used Waters’ 3-pointer in that moment to carry itself to a hard-fought 83-78 victory against the visiting Tigers (16-7, 5-5) in the PMAC on Saturday.
LSU (19-4, 9-1 Southeastern Conference) held its spot at No. 2 in the SEC standings before going to Rupp Arena on Tuesday to take on the team it shares that spot with in No. 5 Kentucky.
Waters doesn’t remember how he ended up with the ball in his hands. He just remembers knowing he had to get a shot off.
He leaned forward past the defender and put a 3-pointer up that fell through and just like that LSU was back in the game.
“Everyone on the team lives for the moment, and that was my moment,” Waters said. “I pump faked to put it up, and it just changed the momentum of the whole second half. We came out with a much better hunger to us.”
That hunger manifested itself at the 3-point line for Waters, who hit three 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the period to regain a lead that LSU hadn’t had since Auburn tied the game with a Bryce Brown 3-pointer less than five minutes into the contest.
Waters’ last 3-pointer put LSU up 51-46 with 15:16 left, and the home team in the PMAC never trailed again for the rest of the game.
In front of an approving home crowd, LSU slowly built on that lead as Auburn tried multiple times to erase it with its 3-point shooting but never could quite get there.
During the fast-paced second half, Auburn coach Bruce Pearl received a technical foul for leaving the box just moments after receiving a warning.
The roof came off in the PMAC when freshman forward Naz Reid threw down a reverse dunk that extended LSU’s lead to double digits for the first time in the game with 8:42 remaining.
“I was trying to break the rim, to be honest,” Reid said of the slam.
Auburn did get LSU’s lead down to a point in the final 22 seconds, but LSU held on with free throw shooting and a critical stop in the final 15 seconds of the game in which Jared Harper missed two 3-point attempts that would have tied the game.
Reid once again came up big as he ended up guarding Harper on Auburn’s last possession.
“(That was) huge,” Wade said. “We had to switch and Naz had to stick a hand up the whole time. He knew with Harper put that ball in his left hand, he was going up. He knew as soon as that thing touched the left hand it was going up, and he did a phenomenal job.”
LSU out-rebounded Auburn 47-34 with 22 of those rebounds coming on the offensive side of the ball. Kavell Bigby Williams had 11 rebounds (seven offensive) and Marlon Taylor had seven rebounds (five offensive).
“He’s just such a presence,” Wade said. “He gets seven offensive, seven points and 11 (total) rebounds. Him getting in foul trouble really hurt us. He’s versatile. We can switch him. We can do so many different things with him when he’s out there.”
Waters finished the game 19 points and 10 assists for the double-double. Skylar Mays added a team-high 20 points while Reid had a double-double of his own with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Mays had his best game in a couple weeks, a fact Wade attributed to the fact that he finally put some important tests in the rear-view mirror.
“He had a physics test on Thursday and he had an anatomy test last night as 7 p.m.,” Wade said. “Who in here could perform well when your studying for those things.
“It’s just a matter of lightening his load for a little bit, and relaxing. You could see the weight of the world off his shoulders this morning.”
Harper led Auburn with a game high 25 points points, seven assists and six rebounds.
Now LSU will turn its attention to No. 5 Kentucky, which it shares No. 2 spot in the SEC with.
Wade said LSU will take a bit to celebrate the win before turning its attention to the John Calipari-coached Wildcats who haven’t lost a game since dropping their league opener against Alabama.
“We’ll set the mindset tomorrow,” Wade said. “We’re going to enjoy this for another hour or so, then we’ll be ready to work on Kentucky. We’ll get everybody together tomorrow, set the mindset and get ready to go. It will certainly be a tough road game.”