Live by the three, die by the three, goes the old basketball cliche. LSU has done plenty of the latter lately, but the Tigers – No. 3, in particular – enjoyed the fruits of the former Saturday afternoon in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The Tigers knocked down a season-high 15 3s and used 27 points and 11 assists from Tremont Waters to knock off Arkansas 94-86, rounding out a season-sweep of the Razorbacks and snapping a five-losses-in-six-games skid. The victory places LSU (13-9, 4-6) in a logjam at the middle of the SEC, with its postseason hopes still intact.
The Tigers were shooting just 28.9 percent from 3 in SEC play entering the game; their guards, just 24.8 percent.
Those figures progressed to the mean Saturday. LSU buried 15-of-30 from beyond the arc. The guards knocked down 12 of those on 23 takes.
“We were saving up our makes for that game,” head coach Will Wade said. “Any time you shoot it like that, you should win.”
Waters, shooting only 25 percent from three in the league, hit 4-of-9 and surpassed 20 points for the first time since his heroics at Texas A&M on January 6. The freshman point guard joined Tyler Ulis as the only players in the SEC with two 20-point, 10-assist games in a single season.
“I just feel like I played better,” Waters said. “It’s basketball. I’m going to have ups and downs. I’d rather not say its a freshman wall…I just know I was in a slump. My teammates, my coaches kept saying, play your game, stay out your head.
In total, five LSU players reached double figures. Daryl Macon scored 22 to pace Arkansas (15-8, 4-6 SEC), which also saw five players score at least 10.
Daryl Edwards and Brandon Sampson – who finished with 14 and 13 points, respectively – teamed up early to turn a four-point deficit into a 12-point lead. Sampson started the sub scoring with a pair of threes and a flush on the break, lobbed from Waters, to put the Tigers up 18-14. Edwards added three first-half threes, the third part of a 10-0 Tiger run that saw LSU move ahead 28-16 on Duop Reath’s top of the key 3-pointer with six minutes left in the half.
Sampson and Edwards both entered the game shooting 5-of-23 from 3 in the league. Edwards knocked down 3-for-6; Sampson, 2-for-4. The junior guard was also a team-best +22 in 25 minutes.
“I knew Sampson was going to play well,” Wade said. “He was the only guy I knew was going to play well…You can tell when you get through to somebody. I hadn’t been able to get through to him for a while, and I was able to crack it. And I knew it. It was just a matter of him going out and relying on his ability.”
Arkansas crept to within five after an Anton Beard three-point play. Waters then tossed in 3s on consecutive possessions to extend LSU’s lead back to double figures, and the Razorbacks would only narrow the gap by two points before halftime. The Tigers buried eight 3s in the first half, more than they made in six of their nine SEC games in total.
The shooting only got sharper after the break, for both sides. LSU hit four threes in the first four minutes of the second half – two from Aaron Epps, two from Skylar Mays – to maintain its halftime advantage. But Arkansas found its stroke from the floor, too, shooting 68 percent after the half. A 7-0 Razorback run put the guests within four with 11 minutes to go.
After Jaylen Barford’s three-pointer made it 68-64 LSU with just over 9 minutes left to play, the Tigers used their own 7-0 run, capped off by a three and a dunk from Mays, to push the edge back to 11 with seven minutes remaining. Waters tossed in another from the left corner with 5:45 left to keep the Tiger lead steady at 11. A Daryl Macon layup after a Daniel Gafford dunk temporarily trimmed LSU’s edge to six before Waters calmly connected on two freebies, leaving the score at 80-72 with four minutes on the clock.
The Tigers closed out by knocking down free throws, hitting 14-for-16 over the final 4:15. With the shot clock ticking down and LSU up nine, Mays – who scored all 15 of his points in the second half – threw up a prayer and had it answered, pushing the hosts’ advantage back to 11, 87-76, with 1:15 to go. Arkansas pulled within six when Macon made three free throws, but Gafford intentionally fouled Epps. The senior forward, who finished with 16 points and 5 rebounds, made both to ice the win.
Wade noted LSU’s manner of winning – finally getting hot from the floor – wasn’t “sustainable.” But the win puts LSU in a logjam at the middle of the SEC heading into the home stretch. Wade said he expects two of the teams currently at 4-6 in the league to make the NCAA Tournament, another one or two to make the NIT, and the team that falls out to miss postseason play altogether.
“It was a good win,” Wade said. “Needed it. It’s tough to say it was a must win in early February, but it was close to it as you can get.”