AUBURN, Ala. — After attempting just one field goal in the final 10 minutes of Saturday’s heartbreaking two-point loss to No. 1 Oklahoma, Ben Simmons went on the offensive early Tuesday night.
When he did, Auburn paid the price.
Simmons took 15 shots from the floor in the game, including seven in the first eight-plus minutes, and made nine of them as Auburn struggled to keep him from doing whatever he wanted from almost anywhere on the floor.
Simmons knocked down baskets on an array of shots in helping his team to a 38-31 halftime advantage -- going 8-of-12 from the floor en route to scoring 17 points -- then turned facilitator in the second half with five of his game-high seven assists when LSU blew the game wide open.
When it was over, Simmons had 21 points and 13 rebounds to go with his seven assists in an 80-68 Southeastern Conference win. It was Simmons’ league-leading 16th double-double of the season.
Simmons said he came in wanting to be more aggressive, which Auburn found out a little earlier than they may have thought -- compared to past games.
“Definitely,” he said when asked if he came in with a different mindset. “I just wanted to be more aggressive and attack the rim.
“I know that usually, when I take shots, they fall,” added Simmons, who went into the game shooting 56.2 percent from the field. “So I knew that coming down, being able to attack the rim and put shots up would help us win.”
Auburn certainly tried to limit his touches with 6-foot-10 forward Tyler Harris and 6-7 forward Cinmeon Bowers -- among others -- but no one was able to control him effectively enough.
“It was a challenge keeping him in front of us (in getting to the rim),” Auburn guard Bryce Brown said. “Then, he was getting shots off the wing. … He can really do a lot of things.”
LSU (14-8, 7-2 SEC) pushed its halftime lead to double digits just 79 seconds into the second half to start the rout and never looked back. It pushed the lead to as many as 21 points with just under eight minutes to play.
Tim Quarterman, who later suffered a hip injury that isn’t believed to be serious, had a layup on a feed from Simmons before Simmons had a dunk following a steal by Jalyn Patterson.
Simmons finished off the 6-0 run with two free throws to make it a 13-point game at 44-31 and Auburn never got the deficit below 10 points the rest of the way -- sending fans streaming to the Auburn Arena exits early.
Auburn (9-12, 3-6) did make it interesting late in the game after LSU ran out to a 21-point lead with 7:56 left in the game. But after Auburn chopped the deficit to 10 points with 1:22 remaining, LSU secured the victory.
“We thought we could try and push the ball and attack early and maybe get some post touches in there,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said of his team’s early burst. “We were able to do that and I thought when Ben got out on the wing, we were able to hit him. Then, with our fast break, he was able to attack the lane.”
While Simmons went 9-of-15 from the field, Craig Victor was 6-of-11, Keith Hornsby was 5-of-8 and Josh Gray was 4-of-6 as LSU shot 56.7 percent (34-of-60) for the game. The Tigers started the second half 15-of-21 for 71.4 percent and eventually hit 60.7 percent in the final 20 minutes.
It added up to LSU’s third SEC win in a row, while Auburn fell for the third consecutive time in conference play.
LSU’s 7-2 league record is its best nine-game mark since the 2008-09 team started 8-1 and went on to claim the league’s regular-season title.
With the victory, LSU moved into solo second place at the halfway point of the 18-game conference schedule when South Carolina dropped a 69-56 decision to Georgia and Kentucky fell to Tennessee 84-77 on Tuesday night.
Simmons led four LSU players in double figures.
Victor scored 14 points, Hornsby had 10 and Gray came off the bench for 10 when Quarterman left the game.
With Simmons getting 13 rebounds and Victor eight, LSU finished with a 43-32 edge on the glass.
“We definitely came on (in the second half),” Victor said of turning the tide with defense as well. “We capitalized on our offense. We have these things called ‘kills,’ which is when we get three stops in a row. I think we had nine tonight, so that definitely helped us out.”
Brown, who came off the bench to hit 6-of-13 from 3-point range, finished with 18 points to lead Auburn -- which shot just 36.5 percent from the field.
Bowers, who did not start after missing the last game for disciplinary reasons, had 15 points and seven rebounds, while guard Kareem Canty added 14.
But it wasn’t enough to stop LSU from bouncing back after the Oklahoma disappointment.
“I thought we came out tonight understanding that it was another important game … a conference game on the road,” Jones said. “I thought we did a great job coming out of the gate and playing well.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t finish it as sharp as we would like to, but at the end of the day we got a victory and we’re excited about it.”