NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Only one bad thing came out of the LSU men’s basketball team’s win at Vanderbilt in its Southeastern Conference opener Saturday night.
The problem: The Tigers don’t have a lot of time to savor a complete performance in their 90-82 victory over the Commodores, who were picked to finish second in the conference.
That’s because LSU had to quickly turn the page and start preparing for Tuesday night’s home game with No. 10 Kentucky — the preseason favorite to win the league title.
Still, nothing was going to temper the Tigers’ excitement after going into Memorial Gymnasium as an 11½-point underdog and coming out with an important win that helped erase some of the bitter taste of their 7-5 start.
With solid play on both ends of the floor, LSU gained some confidence for the matchup with Kentucky, an easy 83-61 winner Saturday over Ole Miss in its SEC opener.
The Tigers buttoned things up on the defensive end against Vanderbilt’s top scoring threats, had a big edge in points in the paint and rebounding and hit some clutch field goals — especially in the second half — to finish a 48.4 percent shooting night on the road.
They couldn’t have picked a better time to do all those things at the same time after a midweek team meeting involving coaches and players followed a 77-71 setback to visiting Wake Forest on Tuesday.
While the meeting was described by both parties as constructive and positive, guard Keith Hornsby said a renewed attitude was ultimately the difference.
“We had a better edge about ourselves when we touched the floor, and we needed that,” he said. “I’m just happy that we did it; we need to sustain that coming into the next 17 games in conference.”
That will be key for LSU — being able to play at a consistently high level after being up and down during nonconference play.
While LSU played well early, it all came together in the final 13½ minutes after Vanderbilt led 51-50 — its last lead of the evening.
Hornsby, who scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half, started a 12-2 run with a 3-pointer, then drove the lane for two after Ben Simmons slammed one home for two of his game-high 36 points.
Just like that, with those seven unanswered points, LSU had the momentum it needed to take Vanderbilt down.
That stretch helped get his team over the hump and helped them maintain to the end, coach Johnny Jones said.
“On the defensive end, our guys continued to grind,” he said of that timely surge. “(Vanderbilt) made a run, and good teams are going to do that. But our guys did a great job of responding well to it. We did not panic under the pressure. We made extra passes and we executed on the offensive end of the floor, and that’s what was needed.”
Along the way, LSU beat Vanderbilt in all of the key categories that don’t show up in the box score.
Taking advantage of some foul trouble by Damian Jones and forward Jeff Roberson, the Tigers scored 40 points in the paint to 24 for the Commodores and out-rebounded the home team 40-29.
Simmons had a lot to do with both of those. In addition to going strong inside, where Vanderbilt had no answer, he had 14 rebounds — six on the offensive glass.
“I was just being aggressive,” said Simmons, who got to the free-throw line 19 times and made 16. “I knew the bigs couldn’t guard me, so it was about being consistent and starting from the first half to the second half.”
LSU also had an 11-4 edge in second-chance points and doubled Vanderbilt in points off turnovers at 14-7.
The big ones for Jones were the paint points and rebounding. In addition to Simmons’ 14, he also got six from Craig Victor and five from Tim Quarterman.
“One of our focuses coming into tonight was to try and win on the boards,” Jones said. “We were able to do that, and I thought that gave us a great opportunity.
“We got some second-chance opportunities that were big, and winning in the paint was huge for us. To get 11 offensive rebounds was really good for us. ... I thought that as a group we did a lot better job on the glass against a good rebounding team.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.