LSU needed Tremont Waters to hit two deep threes late to knock off Texas A&M in College Station by a single point 17 days ago. On Tuesday night, thanks to a big night from Duop Reath and a late surge from Aaron Epps, the Tigers needed just one Waters bomb from beyond 30 feet in the final minutes to put double-digit dominance on ice.
The Tigers built a 19-point on a surprising paint presence on offense and active hands on defense. That gave the Tigers the cushion needed to win, as LSU picked up its first home SEC victory of the year, a 77-65 wire-to-wire win over Texas A&M.
Reath, matched up against a frontcourt featuring one lottery pick and one first-team All-SEC candidate, scored 21 points and snagged eight rebounds. Waters added 15 points – 3 from 35 feet with 2:18 to go – with 9 assists and 8 of LSU’s 13 steals.
“I work on my shot,” Waters said of the long-range effort. “That’s something I have to work on because I’m smaller.”
Epps scored 12 – including seven straight late in the second half when the Tigers were struggling to find buckets against an Aggie zone – to pick up a season sweep over a preseason SEC title favorite. The senior forward scored five in 40 seconds to keep the Aggies, who never cut the deficit to 10 in the second half, at bay.
“He’s a – how tall are you? – 6-10 sniper,” Waters said. “That’s what we call him.”
“He can do that anytime,” Reath said. “During the game, I told him, ‘Hey, it’s time now. You’re hot. Get us going.’ He came up clutch for us.”
The Tigers (12-7, 3-4 SEC) forced 20 turnovers to negate a 50-30 A&M rebounding advantage, but they used a packed in defense with high pressure at the point of attack to outscore the larger Aggies 40-34 in the paint.
“It’s hard to win when you get outrebounded like that, but we made up for it with the steals and forcing all the turnovers,” said head coach Will Wade. “If you’re going to get blasted on the glass like that, you have to create a bunch of turnovers, which we did.”
It took 2:32 minutes for either team to score, before Reath hit a free throw to break the ice, kickstarting a 6-0 LSU run out of the gates. A&M didn’t crack the scoresheet until Tyler Davis’ jumper at the 15:10 mark.
That’s when LSU used a 10-0 run to break open a tight affair, pulling ahead 25-10 on Reath’s jumper with 7:17 left in the first half.
“Had to be aggressive, finish through contact, go straight up,” said Reath, who followed up a career-high 31 points at Vanderbilt with 9-of-14 shooting against Texas A&M, outdueling Davis (12 points, 12 rebounds) and going toe to toe with future lottery pick Robert Williams (21 points, 15 rebounds). “It was good to give back to our fans because they have been loyal to us all season.”
Waters assisted on four straight possessions to put LSU up 41-26 at the half, a lead that would grow as large as 19 in the second half on Reath’s three-point play at the 15:07 mark in the second half. But using second chance points – where A&M finished with a 31-10 advantage – the visitors cut the lead nearly in half over the next six minutes, outscoring LSU 18-9 to pull within 10 on a Williams jumper with 8:06 to go.
“I thought it was important we go into halftime with a double-digit lead, which we did,” said Wade. “It wasn’t very smooth. They just said, ‘We’re going to throw it off the backboard and go play volleyball.’ The starts to both halves were quite a bit better than they have been.”
A&M threatened that double-digit lead, but never erased it. Brandon Sampson, who scored 9 points off the bench, and Daryl Edwards, who added 12 from the bench, each hit big 3s, as did Epps and Waters. Waters didn’t have his best shooting night, connecting on just 5-of-14 attempts and 1-of-4 from deep. However, he was a menace defensively with active hands, a key part of LSU’s 42 deflections, and he was a maestro offensively with his nine assists, including three each to Epps and Reath.
“I pretty much knew if I got into the paint that Epps was going to be in the corner and Sky(lar Mays) was going to be open or Daryl was going to be open,” Waters said. “I was pretty much just attacking the paint, just making plays.”
The win snapped the first three-game conference losing skid of Wade’s head coaching career and gave the Tigers their first home win in the league. Never one to be satisfied, Wade mixed excitement at the opportunity seized with regret at those prior chances not taken.
“You just think about all the other ones you let slip away,” Wade said, referring to three conference losses in which LSU held leads in the final two minutes. “If we’d have played with this edge…I don’t even want to think about it. Makes me sick. But I’m happy to win, don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled to win.”