When Jordan Wright decided following his senior season at Vanderbilt last year to enter the transfer portal and then transfer to LSU, the Baton Rouge native had a single purpose in mind:
To lead LSU basketball back to its traditional winning ways on the hardcourt under second-year coach Matt McMahon.
Wednesday night in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center before a raucous if not packed crowd, attendance was 8,777, Wright and the Tigers took a giant step towards doing just that.
Wright scored a game-high 27 points leading LSU to an 89-80 victory over No. 22 Mississippi.
“It was great,” an elated Wright said.
“This was my favorite game so far. The best game I’ve played in an LSU uniform. The atmosphere was electric tonight. The students and fans really came out and supported us. I am excited for the rest of the season. The support tonight was incredible. This is exactly what I wanted and the reason I came back. I wanted this to play in this type of environment and win these types of games against a top-25 opponent. It was incredible.”
Wright scored six of LSU’s nine points to close the first half and eight of Tigers’ 10 points to open the second half. He also finished with seven rebounds, five assists and seven steals.
Jalen Cook added 16 points for LSU (11-6, 3-1 Southeastern Conference). Tyrell Ward contributed 11, including three big time 3-pointers in a two-minute span during a 13-4 run that pumped the Tigers’ lead to its largest lead of the game at 16 points, 64-48, with 9:48 left to play in the game.
“Really fired up for our team,” McMahon said.
“Proud of their effort and toughness that they showed on the court tonight. A great atmosphere with well over 1,000 students here tonight. Great energy in the endzone and from the fans that were here.
“Ole Miss has a terrific team. They are 15-1 for a reason. They have great talent and play extremely hard. I thought in the second half, minus the free-throw line, our defense was terrific. We had 32% from the floor. We were really concerned with Ole Miss being one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country, over 40%, which you do not see too often. We held them to six of 24, which is 25% there. I thought our offensive execution in the second half, minus a few possessions at the end of the game, was just terrific. We were five-of-eight from the three in the second half and 55% from the floor. The guys did a great job at making free throws,” McMahon said.
With 3:18 left to play and LSU up by 15 points, Ole Miss’ pressing defense caused two missed shots and two turnovers as the Rebels pieced together a 10-0 run.
But a Mike Williams III 3-pointer from the deep corner halted the Ole Miss run and LSU went on to hit 9 of 10 free throws in the final 32 seconds to seal its first win of the season against a ranked opponent and its third SEC win. LSU only won two conference games last season.
Most of the Ole Miss (15-2, 2-2) scoring came from Matthew Murrell, Jaylen Murray and Allen Flanigan, all ranked among the SEC’s top 20 scorers.
Murray had 23 points, Flanigan 20 and Murrell 19 for the Rebels.
LSU trailed Ole Miss almost the entire first half before finally taking the lead on a Wright steal and bucket with 1:45 left, then retaking it on a Cook 3-pointer with a little more than one minute remaining. LSU led 35-33 at halftime and never trailed in the second half.
“We wanted to get off to a great start since we got the ball first at the beginning of the half,” McMahon said.
“Will Baker set a great screen and Jalen Reed hits Jordan Wright for a three at the top of the key. We were able to string some stops together. I thought we were able to create high-quality shots. We were not turning the ball over in that stretch. In the first half we had nine turnovers and in the second half we had a couple there late that we wish we could get back, but we finished the half. When the game was on the line, we had three turnovers in that 17-minute stretch. I thought overall the unselfishness, screening, and physicality that we played with on the offensive side made a difference. The guys must ultimately make the shots and the plays, and they certainly stepped up and did that,” he said.
Ole Miss coach Chris Beard said he did not think there were too many positives to point to on a night when LSU showed its strength in key moments of the game.
“Yeah, on a night where there aren’t many positives for us, I did think we gave ourselves a chance late,” Beard said.
“I think we cut it to a two-possession game with under two minutes left where we didn’t have to foul was a big possession for us. If we get a stop there, I think we get a little pressure on LSU to beat us, but we didn’t. We didn’t get the stop there – a missed switch and gave up a three. But I did think we have a little bit of fight in us which was good to see. It’s a long season and you’re going to be in games like this where you aren’t going to be your best. The objective is to give yourself a chance and we did that on a night where we didn’t do a lot of other things well. I did think the guys kept fighting and didn’t quit,” he said.
LSU, which opened SEC play with an upset win in College Station over Texas A&M, hosts the Aggies in a rematch on Saturday at 3 PM in the PMAC.
“1-0 tonight,” McMahon said.
“That is what we always say. It is 18 one-game seasons. The league is ridiculous with how good the teams are. I think that every win is important. Was this a must-win game? Every game is a must-win game. I thought the energy, effort, and togetherness that our players played with is a step in the right direction for us. It’s a big win against a top-25 team. They have earned that from the games that they have put together over the course of the season. We must quickly turn the page and get ready for A&M. We need a great crowd and atmosphere.”