OXFORD, Miss. — The LSU basketball team got downright defensive Saturday night.
The Tigers weren’t too shabby on offense, either, despite losing a key piece to their attack early.
Playing just 30½ hours after learning its game at Missouri was postponed because of COVID-19 protocols within the Missouri program and that it would face Ole Miss on the road instead, LSU hardly missed a beat.
Despite losing Cam Thomas to an apparent right ankle injury less than two minutes into the game, LSU bolted to a 26-9 lead with 9:19 left in the first half and never looked back in rolling to a satisfying 75-61 win over Ole Miss in The Pavilion.
OXFORD, Miss. — The LSU basketball team got out to a huge lead on its way to a 75-61 win at Ole Miss on Saturday night, but the Tigers took a …
“We always say, ‘You can make an excuse, or you can make it happen.’ ” LSU coach Will Wade said of having to change his game plan on the fly. “We don’t like to make a lot of excuses.”
So, the Tigers went out and showed it.
LSU (8-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) opened the game with a gritty pressure defense that smothered Ole Miss (6-4, 1-2 SEC) at every turn in the early-going and never let up until the game was well out of hand in the final two minutes.
Ole Miss got only four shots up in the first 5½ minutes — missing all of them — before Khadim Sy got the Rebels’ first made field goal on a putback with 14:16 to play. By then LSU, which had forced turnovers, was up 15-5.
“I thought it was our best effort (of the season), we were locked in … we were focused,” Wade said. “Our defense was tremendous. That’s how we’ve guarded in practice, we just haven’t been able to get that stuff in the game.
“We did a great job defensively, we did a solid job rebounding. We got contributions from everybody, so it was just a very, very good road win over a good Ole Miss team.”
There was only one hiccup.
Thomas, who led the SEC with 24.6 points per game going into the hastily-made matchup, played just four minutes total and did not score after he landed awkwardly on his right foot after missing a 3-point shot from the top of the key.
It turned out to be his only field-goal attempt of the game as he went to the bench to be evaluated by trainer Shawn Eddy.
Thomas returned with 11:06 to play in the first half, but ran up and down the court with a pronounced limp and went to the locker room for good — knocking his chair over in frustration — with 8:52 left in the half.
Wade said after the game that the injury is not believed to be serious and that Thomas, who has turned the ankle several times in practice because he gets up so high on his jump shots, would be questionable for Wednesday night’s home game with Arkansas.
Even without Thomas, LSU’s offense was rolling. The Tigers knocked down eight of their first 11 field-goal attempts — a start that was capped by Javonte Smart’s 3-point basket that produced a 20-5 edge.
Trendon Watford led LSU with 21 points, while Smart had 17 and Darius Days 15. Freshman Eric Gaines, who replaced Thomas, added a career-high 10 points after entering the game. He had 19 points total in his first nine games.
Days had seven rebounds and Watford six and Aundre Hyatt came off bench for four points and five rebounds as LSU outrebounded Ole Miss 35-32. Smart had a team-high six assists.
Sy, Jarkel Joiner and Luis Rodriguez had nine points each to lead Ole Miss.
Guard Davontae Shuler, who was the Rebels’ leading scorer at 13.8 points a game, was 0 of 9 from the field and scored just two points, while guard KJ Buffen, who gets 10.9 points per game, missed his only shot from the field and finished with three points.
LSU actually stretched a slim 3-2 lead when Thomas went out to 20-7 when he tried to come back when Watford scored eight points and Smart had seven.
LSU kept the heat on defensively and wound up taking a 39-21 lead at halftime after shooting 50.0% from the floor while holding Ole Miss to 26.1%.
The Tigers also hit 46.2% from beyond the 3-point arc, while the Rebels shot just 10.0%.
It was more of the same in the second half.
LSU came out and added to its lead, pushing it to 20 at 49-29 on and a thunderous dunk by Mwani Wilkinson on an alley-oop pass from Gaines with 15:31 left in the game.
LSU’s largest lead was 23 points, when Hyatt hit a jumper to make it 65-42 with 5:50 remaining.
“Very, very proud of the guys,” Wade said. “Very, very proud of everybody in our program for coming together and making this happen on a short turn.”
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