FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — With its regular season at the halfway point, the LSU basketball team is quietly building a nice little résumé.
Well, maybe not so quietly — especially if you ask Texas A&M and Arkansas.
There’s a long way to go until March, of course, but the Tigers’ RPI has been on the rise in the past week with some attention-grabbing performances: a narrow home loss to Kentucky and a slim win at Texas A&M, not to mention Wednesday night’s 75-54 pummeling of Arkansas on the road.
Thursday morning, fewer than 12 hours after LSU shredded Arkansas in front of a stunned Bud Walton Arena crowd, the Tigers were No. 62 in the official NCAA RPI — up 19 spots from Wednesday morning and 59 spots from before the A&M game.
Will Wade’s team was even higher at No. 52 in the well-respected KenPom computer rankings.
That’s what Southeastern Conference roads wins will do, even if they were on opposite ends of the basketball spectrum.
LSU (11-4, 2-1 SEC) needed a pair of 3-point baskets by Tremont Waters in the final 12.4 seconds to grab a 69-68 victory at Texas A&M before blowing the doors off Arkansas in the usually loud Bud Walton Arena — where the Razorbacks (11-5, 1-3) had won 11 games in a row and were 103-15 the past six-plus seasons.
Most of the noise coming from the crowd of 11,818 on Wednesday night were shouts of derision and scattered boos for the home team before most of them started heading for the exits when LSU pushed its lead to 66-43 with more than seven minutes to play.
LSU, which maintained a double-digit lead for the game's final 34:09, led by as many as 24 in the first half and built a 27-point cushion in the closing minutes.
The Tigers made a statement early with a 32-10 run after Arkansas took its only lead of the night at 1-0 just 23 seconds in, and LSU led 41-21 at halftime.
It was almost too good to be true for Wade.
“I looked up at the scoreboard and we were up by 20-something,” he said. “I didn’t realize it.”
Former Tigers coach John Brady sat courtside as the analyst for the LSU Sports Radio Network.
“That first half was the most incredible half of LSU basketball that I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Brady said. “They followed the game plan at the start and kept the crowd out of the game for the first eight or 10 minutes. But then, they kept them out of it for the whole 40 minutes.”
While LSU shot 52.7 percent from the field (55.6 percent in the first half), the Tigers turned it over just nine times. Arkansas shot 33.3 percent for the game — including a miserable 18.2 percent in the first half.
“That was just an incredible, well-coached, well-played game by LSU,” Brady said. “I’m totally impressed with what they did tonight.”
Wade was impressed as well.
“That’s about as well as we have played,” he said. “I mean, it wasn’t that we shot it great from (3-point range). There weren’t any tricks to what we did; we set down and we guarded.”
While Arkansas guard Jaylen Barford got hot late and scored 17 points, backcourt mates Daryl Macon and Anton Beard had nine and two. They teamed for 28 points — nearly 20 fewer than their combined average of 47.3 — against the defense by Waters, Skylar Mays, Daryl Edwards, Randy Onwuasor and Brandon Sampson.
“It was surgical what our guys did,” Wade said. “It was just a tremendous effort from all of our players.”
Now, after taking back-to-back road games from teams that were picked to finish third and sixth in the SEC, respectively, the Tigers, who were tabbed for a 14th-place finish, hope to keep it up in home games against Alabama on Saturday and Georgia on Tuesday.
Wade said his team could use some help when it returns for its first home game since falling to Kentucky on Jan. 3.
“I really hope, for our players’ sake, our fans come out,” he said. “Our fans have been waiting for a team that plays hard and gets after it, and our guys have earned it these past two games. … We need people hanging from the catwalks on Saturday night.”
LSU had only 10 scholarship players available Wednesday because freshman forward Mayan Kiir was left home for a violation of team rules, Wade said after the game.
When asked if it was a one-game suspension, Wade said, “We’ll see.”