OXFORD, Miss. — In its last outing at Arkansas, defense was a major problem for the LSU men’s basketball team.
On Monday, it was the biggest concern for Tigers coach Will Wade on the eve of his team’s big matchup with No. 18 Ole Miss, one of the highest-scoring and hottest-shooting teams in the Southeastern Conference.
So when LSU needed the defense to really show up and make a difference, it did, leading to an 83-69 win over Ole Miss on Tuesday night in a battle of two of the last four unbeaten teams in league play.
LSU held Ole Miss to just 40.6 percent from the field, including 28.6 percent from beyond the 3-point line, and forced 16 turnovers.
Also, the Tigers came up with 10 steals to win on the road for the second time in four nights after it had dropped nine consecutive road games dating to last season.
It was the sixth win in a row and eighth in the past nine games for LSU (13-3, 3-0 SEC), while Ole Miss (13-3, 3-1) had its 10-game winning streak snapped.
It didn’t look like it was going to end the way it did early on.
At one point in the first half, LSU was being out-rebounded by Ole Miss by 24-12 and had committed 10 turnovers — another problem area Wade pointed to going in after the Tigers had 35 giveaways in their first two SEC games.
But they protected the ball much better in the second half and only had three in the final 20 minutes as they broke a 31-31 halftime tie and won going away.
“We didn’t play as well as we wanted to in the first half,” Wade said. “But the second half was one of our best — if not the best — half of basketball all year.
“Our defense was good and our point-of-attack defense was good.”
The offense also got its act together in the locker room at halftime.
After hitting 35.7 percent from the field in the first half, LSU was 17 of 29 for 58.6 percent in the second half and finished the game shooting 47.4 percent. The Tigers were 9 of 19 from long range for 47.4 percent.
“We moved the ball better on offense,” he said of the difference in the first and second halves. “In the first half, we were so stagnant. We were just taking bad shots and not getting the ball in the paint.
“In the second half, we moved the ball and we moved their defense. We made. them guard us on the full court.”
Tremont Waters led LSU with 20 points, connecting on 6 of 11 field-goal attempts, and handed out nine assists after a bit of a slow start in the first half when he had just five points and five assists.
Mays and Kavell Bigby-Williams, who didn’t score in LSU’s 94-88 overtime win at Arkansas on Saturday, had 14 points each and Marlon Taylor had 12.
“At halftime, I feel we just doubled down,” said Waters, who had three of his team’s 10 steals. “In the locker room, everybody was kind of frantic because we were saying stuff on the floor.
“But coach Wade huddled us up at halftime and we kept together as a team and as a family and got it together.”
Bigby-Williams also had 10 rebounds as LSU wound up losing the rebounding battle by just three at 42-39 and had five blocked shots.
Terence Davis had a game-high 21 for Ole Miss, while KJ Buffen had 13 and Breein Tyree 12.
Ole Miss came in averaging 81.3 points, which was third in the SEC, in its first three league games with wins over No. 11 Auburn and No. 14 Mississippi State in a four-day span last week.
The Rebels were also shooting 47.0 percent from the floor, which was fourth in the conference.
It was LSU, however, that scorched the nets in front of a hyped-up crowd of 9,500 fans in The Pavilion, while the defense did its part.
“We just had to get back to what we were doing,” Wade said of the improved play on the defensive end. “It was a simple fix … we knew what the fix was and our guys just executed.”