MEMPHIS, Tenn. — For one half Thursday night, the numbers all went against the LSU basketball team — with one exception.
LSU was out-shot, out-rebounded and out-scored inside by a fast-starting Memphis team, but still managed to scrape out a 36-36 tie at halftime.
It didn’t get much better at the start of the second half when LSU turned the ball over three times in the opening 3½ minutes and a usually-strong free-throw shooting misfired on three of its first four from the line in falling behind 40-37.
But that’s when the numbers started turning in LSU’s favor.
Sparked by three consecutive 3-point baskets by Skylar Mays, LSU exploded for a 15-3 run in just under five minutes and went on to a 71-61 win over Memphis in the FedExForum.
Another big number came at the final horn when LSU coach Will Wade secured his 100th career victory as a head coach back in his home state. The 35-year-old Wade, a Nashville native, is now 100-48 after going 91-45 in four seasons at Chattanooga and VCU.
While his 100th was nice, the number Wade was more interested in was his team’s 19-14 edge on the backboards in the second half after Memphis out-rebounded LSU 21-14 in the first 20 minutes.
“I thought the difference in the game was our rebounding in the second half,” he said. “We got pounded in the first half, and we started getting on the glass in the second half and things started to even out.
If you think the LSU basketball team’s game at Memphis on Thursday night is just another ordinary, run-of-the-mill nonconference matchup, thin…
“They also had five or six fast-break baskets in the first half,” Wade said of Memphis, which out-scored LSU 12-9 on the break in the first half. “We evened that out in the second half as well.”
LSU (9-3) won for the third consecutive time in its final game before opening Southeastern Conference play against No. 16 Kentucky on Wednesday night in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Memphis (9-4) had its two-game winning streak snapped when Mays got hot at the right time for LSU. He hit his first 3-point shot of the second half with 17:32 remaining to tie the game at 40-40.
Mays went on to put up 11 points in a span of 3 minutes, 33 seconds, providing LSU with a 48-43 lead with 14:31 to play.
“I took shots I was comfortable with … it’s as simple as that,” said Mays, who was 1 of 3 from beyond the 3-point arc and 1 of 5 on all field goals in the first half. “I just wanted to keep it going and (point guard) Tremont (Waters) did a good job finding me.”
Waters, who had game-highs of 18 points and eight assists, said it was easy when Mays started getting in a rhythm — with the last of his three 3s being especially fulfilling.
“Coach Wade wanted us to run plays, but Skylar was open on that last one,” Waters said. “He got out in transition and I was able to find him. I got it to him, and he knocked it down.”
LSU, which led only twice in the first half, with the largest lead being two points, started stretching the lead and eventually got it to 10 points at 55-45.
In its final game prior to a three-day Christmas break, the LSU basketball team did what it has been trying to do all season.
The Tigers built that double-digit margin on a 3-point shot from Aaron Epps at the top of the key after Waters, who also had four steals, made a nice save of a loose ball under LSU’s basket with 11:48 to play.
They kept piling up the numbers in their favor, especially when Wade, who went to a 2-3 zone in the first half to slow down Memphis after it scored 30 points in the first 13-plus minutes, kept switching things up.
LSU eventually grabbed an 11-point lead three times down the stretch as Memphis never got within six points in the final nine minutes.
In addition to Waters’s 18 points, Mays, who had just three points at halftime, finished with 14. Brandon Sampson added 12 points with nine of them coming in the second half.
Memphis, which entered 9-0 in the FedExForum, got 17 points from Kyvon Davenport and 13 from point guard Jeremiah Martin.
Martin, who was averaging a team-best 18.6 points a game going into the contest, scored just six points in the first half.
“It was a good road win,” said Wade, whose team played its first true road game. “We were fortunate to be tied at halftime; we were lucky. But the guys were really locked in in the second half, and they did a nice job.”