Tied at halftime with Ole Miss and a 14-point lead surrendered, Will Wade gave his team quite the halftime speech.
What, pray tell, exactly was said?
“Can’t repeat all that,” Wade said.
Whatever he said, it worked. LSU built another double-digit second-half lead and didn’t make the same mistake twice, knocking off Ole Miss 82-66 behind a balanced attack and a stiff defense over the final 20 minutes.
“There was not a lot of X’s and O’s or strategy to talk,” Wade said of the halftime speech. “Ole Miss just scrapped their playbook. They just said, ‘Alright, we’re going to punk your point guard, we’re going to throw the ball off the backboard, and we’re going to punk you on the backboards and just play volleyball.’ That’s what they did for the last six, seven minutes of the half.
“If that wasn’t going to change, we weren’t going to change the outcome.”
That changed, and the outcome favored LSU. Skylar Mays scored 15 of his 17 points after halftime, and LSU (14-10, 5-7 SEC) broke open a tie game with a dominant second half, out-shooting the Rebels (11-14, 4-8 SEC) 51.6 percent to 27.3 percent over the final 20 minutes.
Duop Reath chipped in 26 points, and Aaron Epps nearly pulled down a double-double, scoring 11 points and securing 9 rebounds. Tremont Waters dished out seven of his eight assists after halftime and scored 11 points, eight after Wade’s fiery locker room rhetoric.
The G-rated version of that articulation?
“Coach just told us they were playing tougher than us,” Epps said. “We just had to turn it around if we wanted to come out with a win.”
The Tigers outscored the Rebels 45-29 in the second half and drew level with 29 rebounds each.
The plan early for LSU was simple: feed Reath. After Epps’ work on the glass helped LSU (14-10, 5-7 SEC) score the game’s first eight points, Reath took over. He’d account for 11 of 13 LSU points during a stretch in which the Tigers extended the lead from 8-0 to 22-11.
Outside of Reath, however, LSU’s offense lacked for production. The Tigers went nearly six minutes without a field goal, allowing Ole Miss to run off a 13-0 run. Deandre Burnett started it with five points in 13 seconds, and Justas Furmanavicius’ jumper with 1:25 to go in the half gave the Rebels their first lead of the half. Waters’ first field goal, a deep 3 with 33 seconds on the clock, broke the slump and sent the game into halftime tied at 37.
“We got soft on offense, throwing the ball around the perimeter, jacking shots, taking circus shots,” Wade said. “We decided not to throw the ball into (Reath) because we don’t like to win or we don’t like leads.”
Following the halftime pep-talk, five points from Mays quickly put the Tigers back on top 44-38. Mays then buried two technical foul shots and tossed in a three-point play to re-establish LSU’s double-figures lead, 57-46, after eight minutes. The sophomore then swiped from Burnett and slammed the LSU lead to 15 and sunk a 3 from the left wing to make it 17.
“It was a tied game,” said Mays, “so I just tried to come out aggressive. I got open looks early, and I was able to knock down shots.”
“He’s got some pride,” Wade said. “We challenged him a little bit at halftime. He’s got some pride about what he’s doing.”
In total, the Tigers hit six shots in a row to build a 20 point lead with seven minutes left on a pair of Reath free throws. Five straight from Daryl Edwards – a floater followed by a corner 3 – kept the Tiger edge at 20, 81-61, with 3:33 to play.
The win put LSU out of the bottom four of the SEC and bolstered its postseason hopes. Wade was perturbed by the blown lead and some imperfect particulars, diving into several rants about his second unit’s failure to feed the post and yet another turnover on an inbounds pass after an opponent’s make.
“We did win an SEC game by 16 points,” Wade conceded, “so I guess that’s a good day.”