Like most basketball teams, LSU has a special free-throw shooting drill every day during practice.
In the Tigers’ case, it’s a “first-quarter” break with the players getting water and a little rest when they’re not at the line. Then there’s a “halftime” when those not shooting block out or otherwise participate to simulate real situations when everyone’s tired.
A minimum of 110 shots from the collective group is required or there’s extra running.
That preparation paid off Friday night when LSU made its first 22 shots from the line and finished 28 of 31 in a 97-91 victory against stubborn UNC-Greensboro before an approving Pete Maravich Assembly Center crowd of 8,613.
Five-star freshman forward Naz Reid had another impressive performance, leading the Tigers with 29 points after getting 17 in his college debut against Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday.
Sophomore guard Tremont Waters added 21 points plus 10 assists. The Tigers shot 55.6 percent from the field, up from 48.5 percent in the opener, and had a 34-18 rebounding advantage.
But it was those free throws that were really needed. UNCG made 19 of 33 shots from 3-point range, tying for the second-most by a visiting team in the PMAC, and never folded.
“We spend a ton of time on free-throw situations, and tonight showed why,” said LSU coach Will Wade, whose No. 23 Tigers improved to 2-0. “We usually want to be at 80 percent in the halftime drill, but lately we’ve been at 90-92.
“That carried over tonight.”
Wade’s only complaint — someone on the bench reminding him that the Tigers hadn’t missed late in the game.
Sure enough, just like jinxing a no-hitter, freshman Emmitt Williams missed with 2:39 left.
LSU lead 91-80 at that point, but with Williams missing two of four and a couple of ill-advised possessions, the visitors got it down to 93-88 with 16 seconds left on the last of Kyrin Galloway’s eight 3-pointers.
Skylar Mays and Waters made 4 for 4 from the line to close it out, however.
Playing the Spartans, whom Wade knew about from his Southern Conference days at Chattanooga and who were in the NCAA tournament last year, giving third-seed Gonzaga a scare in the first round, provided exactly the kind of test and learning experience Wade wanted for the Tigers, who start three freshmen and give two others significant minutes.
UNCG (1-1) came out shooting 3s from the start and led for almost all of the first 12 minutes.
The Tigers finally took control with a 12-0 run late in the half, sure enough started by a freshman in Darius Days. He made two free throws to tie it at 27 with 7:37 left.
An and-one by Mays, a jumper in the paint by Reid, a steal and layup by Waters and a 3-pointer by Reid, and suddenly the Tigers had a 10-point lead.
It was 49-36 at halftime and LSU would lead by as many as 18 in the second half.
But the Tigers could never quite put the visitors away, committing 17 turnovers to help the Spartans keep within reach.
“This was a big learning experience for all of us, especially the freshmen,” said Reid, who contributed a team-high seven rebounds but also shared the turnover lead with Waters at five.
“When you get to college, everybody can bring it, even if maybe you’ve never heard of them before," Reid continued. “This isn’t like high school.”
That, Wade added, is something he hopes comes in handy down the line.
“That’s an NCAA tournament-type team,” he said. “That’s the team you’ll have to beat in the first round on a neutral court.
“If we’d played this game tonight on a neutral court, I don’t know how good the Tigers would have been. We’ve got a lot of improving to do.”