Tigers win SEC opener in a blowout

LSU was fully aware it was starting Southeastern Conference play Tuesday.

The Tigers raised the level of their game, especially in the defense and rebounding areas in pounding the Aggies 77-54 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

While freshman guard Cam Thomas and junior forward wowed the socially distanced home crowd of 2,212 scoring 32 and 18 points respectively, the jump in improvement made by LSU (6-1 overall, 1-0 in the SEC) from three days ago when it squeaked by Nicholls State, 86-80, was noticeable.

The Tigers held A&M (5-2, 0-1 in the SEC) to 38 percent shooting and outrebounded the Aggies 40-31 including 21 second-chance points off 15 offensive rebounds.

Quenton Jackson led A&M with 17 points and Emanuel Miller added 14 for the Aggies, who hung with LSU for the first 12 minutes of the game.

At the 8:04 mark of the first half, the contest was a muddle. LSU led 19-18 and had missed its first 6 3-pointers. They weren’t forced, but rather good looks that didn’t drop.

But Days finally hit the Tigers’ first 3-pointer just seconds later, the 3’s began falling like big ‘ol fat rain. In a 5:21 stretch when LSU went on a 17-2 run, it hit 7 of 9 shots including 3 3’s by Days and 2 3’s by Thomas.

And in a blink, the Tigers’ one-point lead ballooned to 16 at 36-20 with 2:25 left in half and they managed to get to the locker room at break with a 14-point advantage 41-24.

While Mays and Thomas had 13 points each in the first half, it seemed as if the Aggies were intent on not letting LSU sophomore forward Trendon Watford and junior point guard Javonte Smart get a roll. They combined for just 4 points on 2-of-7 shooting as A&M did a good defensive job of cutting off driving lanes, forcing Watford and Smart to give up the ball.

Sophomore forward Trenton Watford, who re-sprained an ankle in last Saturday’s victory over Nicholls State, didn’t seem to have his usual explosive first step that usually gets him buckets and free throw attempts. He had just 4 points and 5 rebounds but found other ways to contribute by playing solid defensively.

Smart, who missed the Nicholls game because of COVID-19 protocols, went scoreless for the game’s first 32:43 but ran the team flawlessly. He had 2 points and 6 assists.

Even without Watford and Smart’s usual combined 35.2 points per game, the Tigers held off the Aggies because of Thomas, Days and getting a long-time-coming bench contribution from senior forward Charles Manning Jr.

Manning, who was LSU’s best player off the bench until he broke a bone in each of his feet on separate occasions forcing him to miss the majority of SEC play, took a huge step back looking as good as he did as a year ago. He finished with 9 points and 4 rebounds.

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