By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Will Wade is looking for toughness – from within his roster, and from the outside, too.
Heading into LSU’s Tuesday’s 7 p.m. home clash with Sam Houston State on the heels of an 83-82 loss to Stephen F. Austin on Saturday, Wade promised a change in his lineup, and he hoped for a change in his team’s attitude.
“We have it in us,” he said. “That’s what’s so frustrating, because we have it in us. We played with some toughness against Houston. So it’s been tough for us as a staff. Every team’s not consistent and has some swings, but our swings…there’s such a gap between when we play pretty well and when we play terribly. There’s a huge gap.”
Highlighting that gap were numbers Wade pulled from a post-mortem of the SFA loss: LSU missed seven point-blank layups, gave up 30 points on scouting report errors, and lost 12 of 16 50-50 balls, leading to 20 points for the visitors.
A 69-second clip of those 12 plays played on the television screens throughout LSU’s locker room on Monday, a visual reminder to the Tigers (6-3) of the costliness of passivity.
“We’re all tough,” said freshman Tremont Waters (18.2 PPG, 6.3 APG, .486/.434./.804 shooting). “We wouldn’t be playing Division 1 basketball if we weren’t. It’s just their way of dealing with us not playing hard. It fuels my fire for sure because that’s just petty. We shouldn’t have to walk in our own gym and watch that type of stuff.”
Asked about the clips, Wade played coy.
“I didn’t see anything on the video screen,” he said through a side-eyed grin. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t see those. I haven’t seen those yet.
“But that’s something we’ve been known to do.”
The off-court tricks of a coaching staff carry only so much weight, though. Wade is still seeking someone to set the tone between the lines when the lights come on. Asked about who his tone-setter is, Wade got irritated.
“Me,” he said. “I’m the tone setter. We don’t have one. That’s the problem. That’s why I’m out looking for a junior college guy who can come in and knock somebody around a little bit. You don’t want too many of them. I’ve had some teams with too many of them in the past. But you need a few of them. We’ve got a bunch of nice guys. They’re great kids. We don’t have anybody who’s just rough and tumble.
“You can win without that. But it’s a little more difficult. We don’t have a pit bull that can just set the tone for what you’re trying to do. Shoot, sometimes it’s tough for me to get upset at them because they’re so nice. All that comes from myself and our coaching staff. The problem is, we can’t be out there on the floor when it’s crunch time.”
Wade suggested another change could come to LSU’s starting five after a four-game run with Waters, Skylar Mays, Randy Onswuasor, Wayde Sims, and Aaron Epps. That five went 3-1 and has outscored opposing lineups 47-30 in 39 possessions together, per Open Look Analytics. It remains one of LSU’s most competent defensive units, giving up just 0.77 points per possession – by far the best figure among the Tigers’ five-man units with at least 15 possessions together.
Duop Reath, who scored 30 points against UNC-Wilmington on Dec. 10 but has combined for just 11 points on seven attempts in the two games since, will return to the starting lineup in Sims’ stead, and Daryl Edwards will “tentatively” replace Onwuasor. Edwards has hit at least one three in each of LSU’s last four contests, connecting on 8-of-16 from deep during that stretch. He’s also been tasked with guarding the opponent’s most dangerous perimeter scorer.
The five-man lineup of Waters-Mays-Edwards-Epps-Reath has not been good this year, getting outscored by opponents by 34 points per 100 possessions in 30 possessions together. That’s the second-worst figure of any Tiger lineup with at least 20 possessions together, surpassing only that same rotation with Waters swapped for Brandon Rachal.
The starters won’t be the only adjustment.
“We’re going to change our rotation,” Wade said. “I always say, ‘You produce, or we reduce your minutes.’ There’s some guys we have been playing who aren’t producing like they need to. It’s time to change. We’re going to trim that fat a little bit.”
‘A LAYUP LINE’
The one lineup swap Wade wishes he could make most isn’t legal. He bemoaned LSU’s inability to protect the rim, as evidenced by its 9.8% block percentage, which ranks 138th in the country.
“That’s our other big issue defensively,” Wade said. “We have no rim protection. We don’t block any shots. We have zero rim protections. It’s like a layup line when you get past us because we don’t react to the ball. That’s a major issue for us.
“I almost want to throw up when I look at our blocked shot statistics, so I try not to look at them. It just makes me upset.”
The problem is, his best shot-blocker is ineligible after transferring from Oregon.
“Ol’ Kavell Bigby-Williams protects the rim,” Wade said, “so that’s a good sign. We can’t score on him when he’s on scout team. He sends those things to Lafayette. Hopefully he carries that over to next season.”
After laying out his team’s issues with consistent toughness, Wade went into a deep dive on how he’d like to construct a tough roster. He alluded to former VCU swingman Jordan Burgess, who was his tone-setter in Richmond.
“He’d do whatever he had to do to win a game,” Wade said. “If somebody was getting a breakaway layup, they were going to be sitting in the basket support. Cleanly. But they were going to be sitting in the basket support.”
“We gotta go find somebody like that. If you don’t have somebody like that, you have no personality to what you’re doing. We’ve gotta get a rugged, tough personality. To our guys’ credit we can pull it out of them when we have to or when they think it’s important. But if you don’t live that way every day, it’s tough to be that way every day.”
Ideally, Wade said, you have a three or four man like Burgess who may not be able to fill up the box score, but who can be the pit bull every team needs. If you add another player like that at the point of attack or at the rim, Wade says, “you’re in business.”
17: Number of deflections Waters had in the second half against SFA. LSU’s game goal is 40 total. They got to 37 as a team against SFA
QUOTES OF NOTE
Asked about Aaron Epps missing a layup that could’ve beaten SFA, Will Wade went on the following rant about exactly why that missed layup didn’t cost LSU the game. pic.twitter.com/JMM1kEqjRT
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) December 19, 2017
Tremont Waters was not in the mood for Christmas questions today. He’s still fuming about the SFA loss:
Reporter: What’s on your Christmas list?
Reporter: That’s not an acceptable answer. That’s boring.
Waters: Losing is boring.
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) December 18, 2017
- 7 p.m. vs. Sam Houston State (6-5)
- PMAC/SECN+/98.1 FM (LSU Sports Radio Network)
- KenPom Prediction: 79-67 LSU
- SHSU Star: Christopher Galbreath (16.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG)