(This is an updated version including quotes)
Maybe LSU should start all of its home basketball games at 11 a.m.
On the day the school commemorated the 50th anniversary of legend “Pistol Pete” Maravich becoming the NCAA’s all-time scoring leader against Ole Miss, LSU came out guns ablazin’.
The SEC-leading No. 22 ranked Tigers hit their first six shots and generally did what they wanted, where they wanted and when they wanted in a 73-63 victory over the modern-day Rebels Saturday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Building on Wednesday’s high-energy, total-focus 14-point win over Alabama, LSU’s 20-point halftime lead tied its largest of the season. The Tigers finished off the win to improve to 17-4 overall and 8-0 in the SEC, their best start in league play since 1980-81 when they advanced to the Final Four.
According to LSU coach Will Wade, the Tigers awoke at 7 a.m., four hours before Saturday’s opening tip. They were frisky from the start in winning their ninth straight game and their 25th of 27th SEC regular season contest dating back to the end of the 2017-18 season.
“Waking up early was not a change for us,” said LSU freshman forward Trendon Watford, who had 13 points and 9 rebounds. “We get up early throughout the week and do skill work. Coach (Will Wade) told us it’s human nature to be tired, so go out there and have energy.”
The player Wade said that isn’t a “morning person,” guard Javonte Smart, led the Tigers with 21 points. He and reserve guard Marlon Taylor, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds, scored 25 of LSU’s 33 second-half points.
“We just stayed in attack mode,” said Smart, who was 7-of-12 from the field, 7-of-9 from the free throw line and collected seven rebounds.
Consistent aggression was the plan this week after the Tigers won their six previous games by a combined 15 points, despite blowing a series of second-half leads. Wade called his team out publicly in his Monday press conference and followed it with two brutal practices later that afternoon and Tuesday.
After Wade spoke with forked tongue, LSU handled Alabama on Wednesday and then Ole Miss by an average victory margin of 12 points. The Tigers allowed the Crimson Tide and the Rebels to lead for just a combined 2:31.
A key for LSU sending Ole Miss (10-11, 1-6 SEC) to its eighth loss in its last nine games, was shutting down Rebels’ Ole Miss All-SEC guard Breein Tyree.
Two weeks ago in Oxford in LSU’s 80-76 win over the Rebels, Tyree scored a career-high 36 points. This time, with Tigers’ defensive specialist Taylor shadowing him much of the game, Tyree scored just 9 points on 2-of-10 after going scoreless in the first half.
Blanking him in the first 20 minutes certainly got LSU off the launching pad.
After wearing specially made Nike warm-up shirts in the pregame bearing Maravich’s name and LSU jersey No. 23, the Tigers immediately started taking advantage of a size mismatch. They funneled the ball inside to the 6-9 Watford, who scored LSU’s first five points.
Ole Miss led 9-7 before LSU torched the Rebels with a 27-4 run that put the Tigers’ relentless athleticism on full display. Not only was LSU’s ball movement crisp offensively with the Tigers continually finding free paths to the basket, but LSU’s defensive rotation was superb.
Add those two things together – LSU outshooting Ole Miss from the field 60 percent to 25 percent – and the sum was a 40-20 halftime lead for the home team.
Which was a great sign for LSU, which is now 83-0 since 1966-67 when leading by 20 or more points at halftime.
Ole Miss second-year and former LSU assistant Kermit Davis was slightly relieved his team showed signs of life when it scored 12 consecutive points to cut the Tigers’ lead to 40-32 with 16:47 left.
But the Rebels couldn’t make a bigger dent.
An 8-2 LSU burst got the Tigers going again. Even when it appeared LSU’s attention might wander a bit when senior guard Skylar Mays left the floor with four fouls with 14:05 left, Smart made the play of the game.
Inbounding the ball almost underneath the LSU basket, Smart noticed Ole Miss inbound pass defender Carlos Curry was facing away from Smart with his back turned.
Smart simply bounced his inbounds pass off Curry, stepped inbounds, collected the ball off the dribble, laid in it and completed the three-point play with a free throw after Curry fouled him.
Curry immediately found a place on the Ole Miss bench and Smart tried hard not to smile while shooting his free throw.
“I was trying to do it the play before, but (LSU teammate Darius) Days didn’t know what I was talking about,” Smart said. “So the next time, the big (Curry) just stood there. I threw it off him and scored. I’ve done that before in high school.”
Afterwards, all Davis could do was admire the work of Smart and his teammates.
“I love LSU’s team, I love their demeanor, I love their talent,” Davis said. “They have seven really good players, and everybody knows their role. Will (Wade) has done a really good job with their team. They play at a really high level. There are probably 25-30 teams that can go to the Final Four and they’re probably one of them.”
LSU plays its next five of seven games in extremely unwelcoming SEC road venues, so Wade or his team aren’t drinking Davis’ kool-aid yet.
“We have a long way to go,” Wade said. “If we want to have a special season, we’ve got to be more dominant on both sides of the ball. We’ve got to value each possession more. We’ve got to be cleaner with what we’re doing. We’re in a good spot, but there’s a lot of time left, there’s a lot of season left and we’ve got to continue to improve.”