The LSU basketball team was in need of a wakeup call at halftime of Saturday’s 82-66 victory over Ole Miss.
LSU was lulled to sleep by Ole Miss in the final six minutes of the first half, when the Rebels outscored the Tigers 20-6 to tie the game 37-37 heading to the locker room. Will Wade’s team was lacking something.
“Coach (Wade) just told us they were playing tougher than us,” forward Aaron Epps said. “We had to turn it around if we wanted to come out with a win.”
When asked if Wade had expressed it that calmly, the soft-spoken Epps quickly piped up, “No, not that calmly.”
Guards Skylar Mays and Tremont Waters certainly heard the coach.
Mays, who scored two points on a pair of free throws in the first 20 minutes, and Waters, who had five points and one assist, provided the spark in the second half to help LSU rip Ole Miss.
That duo was especially helpful when forward Duop Reath, who worked down low for 18 first-half points that helped LSU build a 14-point lead with 6:02 to play, went to the bench with his third foul 98 seconds into the second half.
Mays scored 15 of his 17 points after halftime, connecting on 5 of 6 field-goal attempts, and Waters had six of his 11 points and seven of his game-high eight assists in the second half as LSU outscored Ole Miss 45-29.
LSU (14-10, 5-7 Southeastern Conference) got another eight points from Reath even though he played just 10 minutes in the second half to help put Ole Miss (11-14, 4-8) away.
With Reath scoring 26 points in 24 minutes and Epps adding 11 points and nine rebounds, the Tigers held a double-digit advantage for much of the second half — and were in front by as many as 20 points with 7:06 to play.
Ole Miss got 16 points each from Deandre Burnett and Bruce Stevens, while Breein Tyree contributed 10. Stevens had 10 points in the second half, but Burnett was held to just three.
“It’s a good win. It’s hard to build a lead like that in both halves, so give our guys credit for that,” said Wade, whose team won for the second time in three games. “We just didn’t close the first half out very well. … We did win an SEC game by 16 points, so I guess that’s a good day.”
Wade said the game plan was to feed Reath inside early and often, but that changed when he had to take a seat early in the second half.
Mays hit a quick 3-point basket, and Reath added a field goal down low before he was tagged with his third foul, giving LSU the impetus it needed to get back on track against an Ole Miss team that has dropped seven of its past eight games.
“We needed other guys to step up because that was basically how we were scoring, throwing the ball into Duop,” Wade said. “I thought Tre did a good job, thought Sky did a nice job.
“We had some other guys, Epps was active on the glass, step up. We needed that, especially when we lost our primary offense (Reath) most of the night.”
Mays also scored 15 second-half points in last Saturday’s 94-86 win over Arkansas.
“The message at halftime was we just had to play better,” he said. "We just lost focus as a team. We let them get a lot of easy looks; we let them get energy off their offensive rebounds."
Mays came out firing in the second half.
“It was a tie game, so I just tried to come out aggressive,” he said. “I got open looks early, and I was able to knock down shots. Tre did a great job finding me.”
“He’s aggressive; he’s got some pride,” Wade said of Mays. “We challenged him a little bit at halftime. He’s got some pride about what he’s doing.”
Wade credited Waters and Mays with playing a key role in controlling the tempo when Reath sat for nearly nine minutes in the second half.
“They did a really, really nice job, because we had been scoring inside the whole time,” Wade said. “When Duop is out, we can’t really score inside.”
Reath was 10 of 12 overall from the field as LSU shot 50.0 percent (29 of 58). The Tigers are 9-0 this season when they hit at least half their shots.
“I was just in rhythm,” Reath said. “Shout out to the team … those guys just kept giving me the ball, and it was really them just keeping me in rhythm.”