Feeling his team lacked a requisite bravado, Will Wade made a major adjustment to LSU’s pre-game routine ahead of Saturday’s home tip with Missouri.
He modified LSU’s starting lineup announcement routine: cooler handshakes, higher energy, enhanced swagger.
That tweaked start, plus a dramatic finish, proved the difference, as LSU used a game-winning shot from Tremont Waters and a game-clinching charge drawn by Daryl Edwards to knock off Missouri 64-63 on Saturday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. It marked the Tigers’ sixth Quadrant 1 win of the year and its seventh top-50 RPI win, making their case for postseason play all the stronger with four SEC games and the conference tournament left.
“I made them re-do the starting lineups, to just give us some energy and pop before the game,” Wade said. “We were much better today. We had a little more swag to us, a little more feel to us. I just thought we had to have a little more personality.”
LSU (15-11, 6-8 SEC) also got more production from its freshman point guard, who scored the final four points of the game and led all scorers with 21. Down 63-60 with 1:17 left, Waters drove right out of ball screens twice. First, he pulled up from 17 feet to cut the deficit to one with 1:07 to play.
After a stop – LSU used a 1-3-1 then switched to man to force a Missouri miss – and a timeout, Waters drove right off another screen and floated home the decisive field goal.
“That’s who we were going to go with,” Wade said of the final two plays.
“Coach Wade and the coaching staff just told us to flatten out on the baseline and go into a ball screen, bring one of the bigs up so they had to help and switch,” said Waters.”That’s what they got.”
It was LSU’s other newcomer in the backcourt who made the game’s critical play on defense. Back in its 1-3-1, Edwards stepped in front of Kassius Robertson, his heels just outside the circle, and took a charge in the chest.
“That’s what he does,” said Wade. “He’s competitive. He’s tough. He’s always on the winning team because he makes little plays like that.”
Jordan Barnett, who led Missouri with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting from 3, and Waters traded threes in the first 90 seconds to set into motion a seesawing affair featuring nine first-half lead changes. Neither team, however, lead by more than a single possession until Skylar Mays’ three-pointer gave the hosts a 23-19 lead with 6:14 left in the half.
Robertson, Mizzou’s leading scorer, gave the visitors a four-point lead of their own with 3s on back-to-back possessions. The first came against an LSU defense scrambling back from full court pressure, and the second was a simple ball screen the Tiger defense failed to fully hedge. Both splashed net and net only, putting Robertson’s Tigers up 30-26 with 3:51 of first half action remaining.
Waters scored eight straight for LSU to pull within one, and Aaron Epps’ outback through a foul and the ensuing free throw restored the Tigers’ advantage, 34-32, with one minute to play. A pair of Duop Reath free throw sent LSU into the locker room with a 36-33 lead.
A foursome of threes out of the locker room – two by each team – kept the LSU lead at three before Daryl Edwards laid in for a 44-39 lead for his Tigers. Barnett’s three in response sparked a 7-0 Mizzou run that quickly turned LSU’s largest lead of the night into a two-point deficit for the homestanding Tigers. Brandon Sampson’s three-pointer stopped the skid and briefly gave LSU a lead before Barnett buried a corner three for a 49-47 Mizzou edge with 12 minutes of play left. Mays’ steal and score a minute later tied things at 49.
Following Wayde Sims’ three-pointer pushed his Tigers in front 54-51 with just over 10 minutes to play, LSU would go more than six minutes without a field goal and five minutes without scoring. But LSU’s defense tightened too, holding Missouri to just four points over a four-minute span. Aaron Epps hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to end LSU’s drought and tie the score a 58 with under four to go.
Waters pushed LSU ahead with a floater at the 2:30 mark, but Barnett connected for his sixth three of the night to send Mizzou in front 61-60 on the very next possessions. Mays missed a front end that could’ve put LSU in front with 1:30, and two makes at the line gave the visiting Tigers a 63-60 lead and only 87 seconds on the clock.
That’s when Waters took over. The freshman had struggled mightily from the floor of late, hitting just 8-of-39 from the field in his last three outings. That didn’t affect him Saturday, as he connected on 8-of-16 shots, none more vital than the last two.
“It’s reassuring that I’m obviously not perfect, but whenever my teammates and Coach Wade continue to tell me to go, and go, and go, don’t worry about a missed shot or a turnovers, they just say,’ Go,’ that just gives more confidence to play my game and do what I do,” said Waters. “This afternoon was a great time for everyone to see that. ”
LSU heads into Tuesday’s home affair with Vanderbilt with a chance to pull within a game of .500 in the league, a year after winning just two conference games total. The Tigers now have wins over likely tournament teams Houston, Michigan, Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Missouri, but it’s matchups like the Commodores they’ll need to take advantage of to qualify for postseason play.
“We just have to continue to be consistent and know what we’re capable of,” said Waters.
“This was as good a win as we’ve had,” said Wade. “We had some grit to us.”