By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Tremont Waters didn’t shy away from it. He was “rattled” in his unofficial LSU debut, a point-less, assist-less 13 minutes in LSU’s 84-74 exhibition loss against Tulane.
His official debut went better. Much better.
Waters dropped 18 of his game-high 27 points in the first 20 minutes, orchestrating Wade’s offense to near perfection in a 99-59 win over Alcorn State on Friday night in front of an impressive Pete Maravich Assembly Center crowd of 11,856 (paid), the largest for an LSU opener in 20 years. Waters, the silky-smooth, sub-6-foot point guard from New Haven, Conn., added 6 assists, 5 boards, 5 steals, and finished plus-37 in 27 minutes.
“I feel like my teammates have a lot more trust in me,” Waters said. “My teammates and coaches all had faith in me. I was able to go out and play and not be rattled like I was at Tulane. I’ll just come out and say that. I was a little rattled, first exhibition game. I just came out here and they helped me.”
“We get to see that most days in practice,” head coach Will Wade said. “The last 10 days to two weeks, he’s just been phenomenal in practice. You never know how it’s going to be in the game. But he was certainly very good.”
For the game, LSU shot 61 percent from the field, its best shooting performance in an opener since 1997. Eight Tigers finished with six or more points and 11 scored, in total. Duop Reath added 11 points in 17 minutes, and Brandon Sampson finished with 10 on 4-of-4 shooting.
Sampson got the start after Wade said in the lead up to the game he wasn’t sure who would get the nod at the 3 spot. He added five rebounds, two steals, two blocks, and was plus-36 in 20 minutes second only to Waters’ plus-37.
“I don’t think it’s much of a secret,” Wade said. “I’ve been pretty hard on him. Downright brutal. He’s really responded. A lot of people wouldn’t respond like he has, and that’s why I put him out there to start tonight. He probably feels like he couldn’t breathe without me finding something wrong with his breath, but the way he responded was important.”
Wade’s message came through loud and clear to Sampson, who approached the start with one thing on his mind: getting stops. His first three, in fact, came off a steal where he rotated on the back side to intercept an errant pass.
“I was trying not only to focus on offense, just trying to be a weapon as well on defense,” he said. “Trying to do things like rotating on the back side, getting tips and deflections, things like that.”
On the other side, LSU held SWAC preseason player of the year Reginal Johnson to 12 points and limited Alcorn State to 39 percent shooting and just 32 percent after the break.
LSU scored the game’s first nine points and built a 17-4 lead, six points courtesy of Waters and four at the free throw line. The lead seesawed between single and double digits before a 13-1 LSU run late in the half – capped off by a Waters layup and three-pointer on consecutive possessions – put the hosts up 21. Waters scored the last seven points of the half and finished the first 20 minutes with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 shooting from the line.
“Not every night’s going to go like that,” said Wade. “He scored 27 points, but to get 6 assists and 5 rebounds and 5 steals, that’s a heckuva stat line right there. You’re going to win a lot of games doing that. We’ll take that every day and twice on Sunday.”
When Waters wasn’t creating, the offense found shots with fluid ball movement. Sampson and Daryl Edwards each benefitted from spells of quick passing to knock down open threes, two the seven LSU connected on in 10 first-half attempts. LSU finished 11-of-19 from beyond the arc.
The second half saw LSU assert its dominance even more. The Tigers scored the first 10 points out of the locker room, the last two courtesy of a Waters steal and fast break alley-oop to Sampson for the slam. Tied at 18 after 20 minutes in points in the paint, LSU finished with a 42-30 advantage and also assisted on 18 of its 36 field goals, turning the ball over only seven times.
“I thought we did share the ball,” said Wade. “We found the open guy. We tell the guys: Every time that ball’s in your hand, you’ve got LSU in your hands. You’ve got the state of Louisiana in your hands. You’ve got to make great decisions. I thought we had good movement on offense.”
After the win, Wade grabbed the microphone and thanked the record-setting crowd for coming out. In the post-game press conference, he credited LSU’s marketing and sports information teams for helping turn out an energetic and engaged fanbase.
“It was the culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of people,” Wade said. “Our goal was 11,500. (Sports information director) Kent (Lowe) slipped me the paper with two minutes left that showed the attendance. That was the cherry on top.”
Waters’ performance, by itself, made it worth the price of admission – which was only a dollar. He dazzled and dominated, hitting 9-of-13 from the floor, 4-of-6 from deep, and 5-of-6 at the line, with just one turnover. He wowed the fans with his crafty ball-handling and clever shot-making, while turning in as complete a performance as any freshman in recent LSU history.
“It was a lot of fun,” Waters said. “We came out, we started off 9-0, and from there we just kept coming on and improving and bumping, the lead up. It was just a great time.
“My first college game, my debut, it was a great show.”