The LSU men's basketball team made sure Will Wade’s first game as the Tigers coach would be a memorable one from start to finish Friday night.
Freshman point guard Tremont Waters had a debut to remember as well.
With Waters leading the way on both ends of the floor, LSU got the Wade era off to a strong start with a 99-59 victory against Alcorn State before 11,856 fans in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
School officials said it was the largest opening-night crowd in 20 years.
Waters scored 18 first-half points, including 10 of his team’s final 14 before halftime, and he finished the night with a game-high 27 points in 27 minutes. He added six assists, five rebounds and five steals in the easy win.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Waters, who connected on eight of his last nine field-goal attempts to go 9 of 13 for the night. “We came out and started off 9-0 and from there we kept improving, bumping the lead up, and the crowd got into it. … It was a great time.”
Of all Waters' numbers, LSU fans were most appreciative of the steals.
One year after the Tigers gave up 83.0 points a game to rank 335th out of 351 Division I teams en route to a 10-21 record, LSU started the game with five consecutive defensive stops to set the tone for the evening.
Guard Brandon Sampson came up with a steal just 68 seconds into the game, Waters had the first of his three first-half steals 39 seconds later and forward Jeremy Combs added a blocked shot as LSU jumped out to a 9-0 advantage.
“We knew we had to practice hard and prepare for our first game, so we pretty much knew we had to get out (fast) and do it,” Waters said. “We had to execute on everything.”
Last season, LSU was 2-17 when it allowed 80 points or more. Alcorn State never came close to that mark as Wade’s team, which led 51-34 at halftime, scored the first 12 points of the second half to build a 29-point cushion at 63-34 with 16:08 remaining.
Alcorn State scored just four points in the first eight minutes of the second half.
“I thought our pressure, we were able to kind of wear them down,” Wade said. “What you saw at the beginning of the second half was a little bit of a cumulative effect of our pressure in the first half — being able to wear them out and get to their legs a little bit.”
After a shaky 84-74 exhibition loss to Tulane on Oct. 31, after which Wade ripped his team’s defensive performance, LSU held Alcorn State to just 39 percent field-goal shooting — 16.7 percent on 3-pointers — and 25 points in the second half.
LSU forced Alcorn State into 16 turnovers, which the Tigers turned into 24 points. On the other hand, Wade’s team turned it over just seven times.
“That was great,” Wade said. “I thought our point guards, Skylar (Mays) and Tre, combined for 11 assists and two turnovers. I’ll take that every night.
“Tremont was very, very good. We get to see it most days in practice, so it’s not probably quite as surprising to us because we’re able to see him. But I thought he had a good game.”
With some solid ball movement, LSU connected on 61.0 percent of its field-goal attempts and shot a healthy 57.9 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
“In the second half, we did a better job establishing the paint area,” Wade said. “It was 18-18 at halftime, and we wound up winning the paint battle 42-30. We dominated the paint in the second half, which was important.”
In addition to Waters, forwards Duop Reath and Wayde Sims had 11 points each, and Sampson finished with 10 points, two steals and two blocks.
Alcorn State guard A.J. Mosby had 15 points, and forward Reginal Johnson, the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s preseason player of the year, added 12.
“When a team comes out and shoots the ball the way they shot, it’s hard to get back in it,” Alcorn State coach Montez Robinson said. “We have to give those guys credit. … They made shots when they had to make shots.”