LSU forward Ben Simmons missed the Tigers’ practices Thursday and Friday because he was a little banged-up following Wednesday’s 21-point win against Gardner-Webb.
By Saturday afternoon, he was well-rested and ready to go.
Simmons hardly missed a beat after a relatively quiet first half — for him, anyway — as he poured in 20 second-half points in LSU’s 100-77 rout of Oral Roberts in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Tigers coach Johnny Jones said he didn’t know whether Simmons would be available Saturday, then didn’t know what he would get from him until the 6-foot-10 freshman produced a game-high 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
“We had to shut him down the last two days in practice, and we weren’t sure if he’d be available,” Jones said. “Just think, he probably could have had 50 (points), 18 (rebounds) and 14 (assists) if he hadn’t been banged-up.”
Simmons had only four points, seven rebounds and four assists in 16 first-half minutes as his teammates picked up the scoring slack to build a 24-point lead before settling for a 48-32 halftime advantage.
Forward Craig Victor and guard Antonio Blakeney had nine points each in the first half, and guard Tim Quarterman chipped in with seven to give LSU (6-4) some separation early.
In the second half, the Tigers looked more for Simmons, who knocked down 8-of-9 field-goal attempts while working his way from the perimeter to the paint area after going 2-for-5 in the first 20 minutes.
“I tried to be more assertive and be more aggressive and attack the rim because not many people can really guard me when I get it at the elbow,” Simmons said of his second half. “I was just trying to get to the rim and find the open man.”
While he was the catalyst, his teammates followed as the Tigers shot 65.5 percent from the field in the second half after hitting just 44.7 percent in the first. They finished 36-of-67 for 53.7 percent.
“It makes the game easier for the rest of us when he gets going,” Quarterman said. “He’s a great finisher at the rim and is a great passer. So when he gets going, it just makes our offense flow easier.”
Oral Roberts (8-5) tried to make a game of it in the second half with some early baskets but was never able to chop the deficit below 14 points. LSU led by double digits for the final 35½ minutes.
Guard Keith Hornsby said the plan in the second half was to work the ball inside-out using Simmons and Victor, who was 4-of-7 in the first half.
Victor scored seven of LSU’s first 10 points and had nine as the Tigers bolted to a 19-7 lead just over five minutes in.
“I was in a zone. ... I was zoned out from the get-go,” said Victor, who played only 14 minutes because of foul trouble. “I was just out there doing what I usually do in practice.”
Then Simmons took over in the second half.
“(Oral Roberts) came out really confident on offense in the second half, but we didn’t rush anything on offense,” Hornsby said. “We found a weakness and got it into the post first and played inside-out. That really helped.
“Those guys can make plays down there. We kind of exposed Craig scoring down there early, and obviously Ben is a great playmaker from the post or the wing.”
Jones said it was important to get that inside production after LSU took 15 3-pointers in the first half, making six.
“We did a much better job of concentrating on getting post touches in the second half,” Jones said. “Ben was able to get going, making passes, having seven assists and being able to score from the elbow area. That was key for us.”
Victor and Hornsby scored 13 points each to back up Simmons, and guards Josh Gray and Antonio Blakeney, who was 3-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc, both had 12 as the Tigers had five players in double figures for the third time in the past four games.
But it wasn’t all offense.
Hornsby and Blakeney took turns frustrating Oral Roberts guard Obi Emegano, who came in leading the Summit League at 23.3 points per game.
With Hornsby and Blakeney hounding him early, Emegano missed his first four field goals and also the front end of a one-and-one. He finally got his first basket with 25.8 seconds left in the first half.
Emegano went on to score 16 points — more than seven below his average — making just 5-of-13 field-goal attempts.
“When you scout a guy like that, you know he’s going to try to score,” Hornsby said. “He had confidence in his teammates a lot, and there were times when he could’ve driven. We made him take some tough shots, and that’s what we wanted him to do.”
LSU hosts American at 7 p.m. Tuesday (SEC Network) before taking a week off around Christmas.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.