JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — With eight players all considered to be starters, the LSU basketball team has relied all season on a lot of bench scoring.
In fact, going into Saturday’s game with Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tournament, LSU was getting 21.6 points a game from its bench to account for slightly more than one-fourth — 25.6 percent, to be exact — of the Tigers’ offensive production for the season.
That was the case again Saturday when LSU punched its ticket to the Sweet 16 with a 69-67 victory in Veterans Memorial Arena.
The three-man bench of Javonte Smart, Emmitt Williams and Darius Days provided some early scoring punch, combining for 20 of LSU’s first 30 points in the game’s first 15 minutes.
LSU wound up outscoring Maryland’s bench 20-11 in the first half and 6-2 in the second half. Its final 26-13 advantage was a factor in helping the Tigers advance.
“Well, we have eight starters,” LSU interim coach Tony Benford said. “All of those guys have been in the starting lineup this year. They’ve all made plays and really contributed.”
One of the biggest contributors Saturday was Days, a 6-foot-6 forward who played just nine minutes and did not score in a 79-74 win over Yale on Thursday in the Tigers’ tournament opener.
As the first player off the bench against Maryland, he knocked down a 3-point shot 14 seconds into his first stint.
Just 47 seconds later, he pulled down an offensive rebound on a Tremont Waters miss and muscled the ball into the basket for five quick points.
His 3-pointer, however, was big as it broke an early 4-4 tie and gave LSU a lead it held for more than 31 minutes.
“Coach Benford and the guys are always telling me to shoot the ball with confidence,” a smiling Days said. “I went in the game and shot the ball and it went in. It felt pretty good, so I kept shooting the ball.”
Days, who was averaging 5.2 points a game, went on to almost double that with 10 points in front of friends and family. He's a native of Williston, Florida, which is about 93 miles south of Jacksonville near Gainesville.
“I waited my time … my time came, and I knocked down shots when I needed to,” he said. “I stayed in the game, I got rebounds, I kept talking to my team. … I was being a good teammate.
“The Yale game, I didn’t play as much as I wanted to,” Days added. “But everything happens for a reason. I had to be patient.”
“I knew Darius would play well,” Benford said. “It was our fault we didn't play him as much (against Yale). We should have played him more, and I told him to be ready. Being here in Florida, he did a great job here in front of his family.”
He wasn’t the only one; Smart finished with nine points and Williams had seven.
Together, they made 9 of 19 field-goal attempts and had 11 rebounds, with Days getting five of them.
“I feel like the bench guys played a big role,” Days said. “Everybody on the team can start. When Naz (Reid) and Kavell (Bigby-Williams) come out, I think we can go in there and take care of business. We rotate in and play off each other.”