ST. LOUIS — Will Wade had plans to stay away longer, but he’s ready to get home. It might mean a win, if he can get another game.
LSU’s 80-77 loss to Mississippi State in Thursday’s SEC Tournament opener for both teams, caused by a poor start and free-throw line woes, only confirmed for him what he’s thought for a while now, what with the Tigers’ eight straight defeats away from Baton Rouge.
“Probably so. Hopefully,” Wade, asked if he expects LSU to host an NIT game next week, said Thursday. “God knows we can’t win away from home. So hopefully, we’ll get a home game. We’re a bunch of homebodies. Hopefully, we’ll get a home game. That would be great. Maybe we can win that.”
That hope could’ve been a near certainty with a win over the Bulldogs, whom LSU knocked off 78-57 in Baton Rouge last Saturday, but the Tigers fell behind 19 points in the first half, digging a hole too deep for even Tremont Waters to pull them out of.
Waters scored 28 points and handed out 6 assists, despite a broken nose protected by a face mask, including 17 points and 6 assists after halftime. But he got almost no first-half help – his teammates shot just 27 percent in the first 20 minutes – and LSU (17-14, 8-10 SEC) made too many mental mistakes in the comeback process to complete it, and Louisiana native Lamar Peters did the rest, scoring 24 points to send State into a quarterfinal matchup with Tennessee.
“We dug ourselves a huge hole in the first half, to get down 16 and just not able to dig out of that hole,” Wade said. “So give them credit. Peters played great. They did a great job shooting the ball, especially in the first half, and we just weren’t able to get into the flow of the game quick enough. That’s what — that’s how the game got away from us.”
Brandon Rachal added 10 points and 9 rebounds in the defeat, and Daryl Edwards got all of his 11 points after halftime. Those two, along with Waters, played all 20 second-half minutes, outscoring the Bulldogs 48-35 to nearly overturn that massive deficit.
The first 10 minutes were a veritable three-point contest, with State starting the show by hitting its first four to build a 10-point lead. LSU used three 3s of its own to make it 21-17 after the second media timeout, two from the hands of Waters.
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Peters and Waters traded 3s again, but that would be LSU’s only make in a 1-for-10 shooting skid. The cold streak allowed Mississippi State to build a 12-point advantage on a slam dunk from KeyShawn Feazell off a dime from Peters. The Bulldogs would hit six shots in a row, building an 18-point lead on Aric Holman’s triple from the right wing and his layup two possessions later.
Peters was the engine that made State’s offense go, though.
“I mean, he just, he had that mentality tonight,” Rachal said. “He played with a killing instinct. He’s somebody that I knew playing in high school and stuff, and he always kind of had that chip on his shoulder. So he played with that tonight, and things just went his way.”
LSU lacked that instinct early, and it cost them. Ben Howland’s men knocked down 65 percent of their first-half attempts. Outside of Waters, who hit four of his eight first-half attempts, the Tigers shot just 6-of-22. For the game, the Tigers’ starting bigs, Duop Reath and Aaron Epps, managed just 7 points and 5 rebounds combined.
“We didn’t come on the first half and play hard,” Waters said. “We played, but we didn’t play with that same energy that they did. I felt like they came out with a much more grittier mentality than we did. That’s frustrating for us because we know we could have played better, and it just slipped out of our hands.”
That changed after halftime. Waters scored six of LSU’s first eight second-half points, and LSU pulled within 10 before Peters crossed his way to a three-point play to stem the tide. The Tigers responded with four straight to climb back within single digits. The lead would seesaw from 11 to 9 for the next two minutes before Edwards sunk his second three of the half to make it 62-54 with 9:30 remaining. Waters promptly stole an errant Bulldog pass and finished a three-point play to pull LSU within five for the first time since the 9:08 mark in the first half. Edwards’ third three made it four, and Rachal’s steal and slam made it 68-66 with 5:52 to go.
State scored the next five, forcing LSU to call timeout down 73-66 under five to go. The Bulldogs then pulled down a pair of offensive boards and swiped a steal just after the Tigers finally secured one, convincing Wade to run out a tiny lineup featuring Rachal at the 5. Skylar Mays validated the move by stealing on a switch and dunking on the other end to narrow the State edge to five, one of eight second-half steals by the Tigers’ small defense.
“Waters is something special,” said Howland. “He’s really a heck of a player, and you have to credit them for what they did going small, switching everything/ We got hurt at one point there because — and, again, it was something that we’ve got to make better adjustments. And they had too many offensive rebounds. They had 14 offensive boards, which gave them a chance. I’m just glad we held on for the win and lived to play another day.”
Waters had a chance to make it 3 with a 1-and-1, but his front-end make was negated by Brandon Sampson’s lane violation. With 40 seconds left, Mays’ three-pointer that would’ve made it a two-point game rimmed out, and Holman sunk his freebies. Mays’ next three fell for a 78-74 score in State’s favor with 20.2 to go. Another LSU steal led to Waters’ 30-footer to cut the deficit to one, but the Bulldogs executed their next inbounds to perfection, getting a layup with a second left to ice the win. Rachal’s last-gasp three was off the mark.
“Give them credit,” Wade said. “Peters played great. They did a great job shooting the ball, especially in the first half, and we just weren’t able to get into the flow of the game quick enough. That’s what — that’s how the game got away from us.”