LSU freshman Ben Simmons didn’t disappoint a big crowd in his much-anticipated collegiate debut Friday night with a double-double — 11 points and 13 rebounds — to go with five assists and two blocked shots.
While fans got to see Simmons’ deft passing skills early when the 6-foot-10 forward delivered assists to Tim Quarterman and Brandon Sampson using his right and left hands in the opening minutes of the 81-70 win over McNeese State, he did so at the expense of his scoring ability.
Simmons wound up with just seven field-goal attempts in 29 minutes on the floor, but his unselfishness wasn’t a concern for LSU coach Johnny Jones after the 21st-ranked Tigers’ 81-70 victory.
Simmons’ first assist was a behind-the-back pass to Quarterman for a reverse layup; the second was a no-look bounce pass to Sampson for an easy bucket that drew oohs and aahs from the crowd of nearly 12,000.
“The good thing is Ben’s a tremendous facilitator,” Jones said. “He can get to areas on the floor, he creates opportunities for others. He had five assists, and probably could’ve had more if guys had knocked down some shots early.
“Ben’s going to take advantage of what’s presented, what’s given to him,” Jones said. “As guys continue to knock down shots and make plays, it’ll open up driving lanes and opportunities for him. … He’s the ultimate teammate. He’ll make the extra, pass and our guys just have to make sure they deliver.”
The 22 points scored by freshman Antonio Blakeney were the most for an LSU player in his collegiate debut since Randy Livingston dropped in 22 in a 106-80 win over Southeastern on Nov. 25, 1994.
Blakeney finished with a double-double in his debut when he added 10 rebounds against McNeese. Livingston came close when he had nine assists to go with his 22 points against SLU.
“Tone played a really good balanced game,” Jones said. “Defensively, he played extremely hard with eight defensive rebounds, and that’s a big number for him.
“He shot the ball and played well in terms of balancing his game. He didn’t force any action and really took what was coming to him.”
While LSU’s heralded freshmen class grabbed the spotlight in combining for 51 of the team’s 81 points, sophomore Elbert Robinson III had a nice evening.
He picked up two fouls in the first three minutes and had to go to the bench. But he was 3-for-3 in field goals, 2-of-3 on free throws and had two rebounds in the second half.
Robinson, a 7-foot-1 center, finished with eight points, two more than he scored in 11 games last season, and four rebounds in 13 minutes — showing he could be a big help down low after a frustrating freshman season in which he averaged 0.5 points and 1.5 rebounds.
Jones was excited about the crowd that came through the doors of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center to get an early glimpse of his team.
The 11,679 fans in attendance was the largest season-opening crowd in the arena since 13,113 showed up on Nov. 22, 1991, to see Shaquille O’Neal and the sixth-ranked Tigers take a 77-76 win over Northeast Louisiana.
“We couldn’t have been happier coming out of that tunnel and seeing our fans out there with that support,” Jones said. “They certainly energized us, and they are difference-makers. To get to where we’re trying to go, and do what we’re trying to do, we need that night in and night out.”
Same song, second verse
LSU, which is 24-0 all-time against McNeese State, won Friday night by the same margin — 11 points — and almost the same score as the Tigers did a year ago.
LSU won the game played on Nov. 29, 2014, by a score of 83-72.
LSU will play two games this week as part of the local Legends Classic leading up to its participation in the championship round of the event to be held Nov. 23-24 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The Tigers will host Kennesaw State at 8 p.m. Monday (ESPNU) and South Alabama at 8 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network).
— Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.