An inconsistent defense was a major concern for the LSU basketball team in three of the Tigers’ first five games to start the season.
But in its first game back home after a 1-2 showing in the Maui Invitational, the offense was a little off early Wednesday night against UT Martin’s sticky matchup zone in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
That is, until Darryl Edwards and Duop Reath came off the bench to provide much-needed sparks and Skylar Mays closed the first half with a scoring barrage that helped LSU eventually put down UT Martin 84-60.
Trailing 9-4 at the first official timeout at the 15:14 mark of the first half, Edwards came in and fired in back-to-back 3-point baskets, while Reath, who did not start for the first time this season, collected six quick points.
“The first four or five minutes, their zone was pretty good,” said LSU coach Will Wade, whose team never trailed after Edwards hit his 3-pointers in a 24-second span. “What they do out of their matchup zone is pretty good.
“That’s how a matchup zone is supposed to look, so it takes a little time to adjust,” he said. “I thought Daryl Edwards gave us a shot in the arm when he came in. He was able to help us attack the zone.”
Edwards, a junior-college transfer who went into the game averaging just 3.6 points, later added another basket for a 21-12 lead before Mays took over.
With fellow point guard Tremont Waters missing his first three shots from the field — all from beyond the 3-point arc — Mays picked up the scoring slack.
He knocked down four 3-pointers and scored 16 of LSU’s 20 points in the final 6:24 to give the Tigers (4-2) a healthy 41-24 halftime cushion.
“Coach (Wade) told us before the game they do a really good matchup zone,” Mays said. “It got to us at first, but Daryl really sparked us getting those open shots. That kind of got us going.”
At the same time, LSU’s defense was doing its job. UT Martin (1-6) shot just 37.5 percent in the first half in going 9 of 24 from the floor and was just 1 of 6 from 3-point range for 16.7 percent.
The Tigers forced the Skyhawks into 18 turnovers — nine in each half — and scored 29 points off the miscues. On the other hand, UT Martin scored five points on seven LSU turnovers — another problem on its trip to Maui.
“We were pretty good in the first half; the second half we had some breakdowns,” Wade said of his team’s defense. “In the second half, we gave up way too many easy ones. We gave up some easy catch-and-shoot 3s, which we can’t do.”
Back on offense, Mays cooled off in the second half and added just two more points to finish with 18 — two off his season high — while Reath and Edwards scored 15 points each. Edwards’ total was a career high.
Reath had a team-best nine rebounds, and Waters, who was just 2 of 10 from the field, helped out in other ways with a career-high 10 assists. He also had eight points, four rebounds and four steals.
“He’s a good player,” Wade said of Waters, who was averaging 20 points per game. “He understood after those first couple of 3s that, ‘Hey, these things may not be going down tonight, so I’m going to have to look for an alternative.’ He got those other guys involved, Skylar and Daryl.”
UT Martin trimmed a 20-point deficit to 12 points with 12:55 remaining, but Mays hit his only basket of the second half after a steal by Waters, and Edwards buried a 3-point shot after Wayde Sims had another steal.
Reath added another field goal to push the advantage to 59-40 with 10:07 left and the Tigers coasted after that, taking its biggest lead at 24 points (75-51) with 4:33 to play.
UT Martin got 17 points from guard Matthew Butler and 16 from guard Darius Thompson. Forward Fatodd Lewis was held to six points, more than six below his average of 12.3 points per game.
“Overall, I’d say it was an average performance,” Wade said of his defense, which is what he wanted to see going into a 10-day break for final exams. “But we’ve been pretty below average.”