The No. 22 LSU basketball team survived its first significant scare as it put Louisiana Tech away 74-67 after a dramatic back-and-forth game that went down to the wire.
And, if you ask LSU head coach Will Wade, the Tigers received a little help from a friend and former teammate up above in the hard-fought, grind-it-out victory.
With just more than two minutes remaining in the game and the game tied at 62 points apiece, Ja’vonte Smart put up a 3-point attempt from the corner that bounced off the rim three times before falling through the net.
“I told our guys that was (Wayde) Sims looking down,” Wade said. “That was three bounces. That was Sims looking down. He put that one in the basket for us.”
Wade reminded the Tigers who they were playing for this season after the game by telling them they got an assist from their former teammate Wayde Sims, who was killed in an altercation on LSU’s scheduled first day of practice and whose name and number they wear on their jerseys.
Smart said he went through a range of emotions between the time the shot left his hand and when it fell through the net.
“I was just watching it bounce around the rim and I’m just like ‘please go in,'” Smart said. “It finally fell in, and I got excited.”
The Tigers played most of the game without star freshman forward Naz Reid, who played just nine minutes and did not get a start for the first time in his short LSU career due to a minor ankle injury.
“We have a young, talented team, and we’re talented at a lot of positions,” said LSU senior guard Daryl Edwards. “Naz is just on another level, but we still have people who can make things happen at that position as well.
“Naz also played a big part of that. He still communicated with us, and he still gave us energy even when he wasn’t playing well. He was still talking in the huddle. That’s next level for sure.”
His absence meant Emmitt Williams and Kavell Bigby-Williams — who got his first start in an LSU uniform — had to step up.
Bigby-Williams played a big factor in the post and on defense as he tallied three blocks, two steals and six rebounds.
He only got two buckets, but one of them essentially served as the game-sealer as he put back a missed Tremont Waters 3-point attempt that put LSU ahead 67-62 with 1:08 remaining.
That forced the Bulldogs to foul the Tigers for the remainder of the game in an attempt to stop the clock and cut the lead, and LSU put the game away at the free throw line.
Edwards had what Wade referred to as possibly his biggest game as an LSU Tiger, shooting 4-for-8 from the field for 12 points off the bench to go along with three rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Edwards, who played the game in a face mask after breaking his nose in practice earlier in the week, joked that he might have to make the protective accessory a regular part of his game-day attire.
“I’m gonna wear it for the rest of the year,” Edwards said laughing. “Even after it heals. For the rest of the year.
“All the work that I put it, I feel like it paid off tonight. It doesn’t feel too good when you work at your game so much and you come out slow. I felt like the work paid off for sure.”
The first half played out like a tug-of-war with the Tigers (4-0) building a lead only for the Bulldogs (3-1) to close the gap with a run of their own.
LSU led 10-5 before Louisiana Tech took a 13-12 lead. Then the Tigers led 24-15 before the Bulldogs scored seven consecutive points to cut that lead to two points. LSU then went on another run to take a 33-24 lead before Louisiana Tech scored another eight straight to cut that lead back to a point.
When the first half was all said and done, the Tigers held a 36-33 lead despite missing a number of layups and a Tremont Waters dunk attempt in the final minute of the half getting out-rebounded 21-19.
Louisiana Tech then made a surge in the second half, thanks in large part to a high volume of rebounds, many of which came on the offensive end.
The Bulldogs led by as many as 8 points when they took a 54-46 lead with 12:42 remaining in the game.
But the Tigers chipped away at the deficit and eventually took a lead with 5:57 leading with a layup by Tremont Waters
Louisiana Tech point guard DaQuan Bracey tied the game with 2:29 remaining with his first bucket of the game. That’s when Smart hit his Sims-assisted 3-pointer and Bigby-Williams got his putback to put the Bulldogs away.
Louisiana Tech turned the ball over on the ensuing possession and Skylar Mays further extended the lead to 68-62 with a free throw before the second one bounced off a Bulldogs athlete and out of bounds.
After struggling at the free-throw line all night (finishing 11-for-19 from the stripe), LSU largely hit its free throws down the stretch to close the game out and come away with a victory to finish off its season-opening four-game home stand.
“Good team win,” Wade said. “Found a way to get it done. Still have some things we need to work on and improve. AT the end of the day, the goal was to be 4-0 and we’re 4-0.”