Halfway through the 18-game Southeastern Conference schedule, LSU men’s basketball coach Will Wade is happy to report his team has taken care of two problems that plagued the Tigers in nonconference play.
Following Wednesday night’s 92-88 overtime win at Mississippi State, LSU is leading the conference in rebounding and 3-point field-goal defense — two of the three areas that were quite worrisome for Wade and his coaching staff when league play began a month ago.
Now, they’re two of the reasons why No. 21 LSU is tied for second in the standings with No. 5 Kentucky, just a game behind top-ranked Tennessee, going into the second half of conference play.
The next area Wade hopes to shore up is in taking care of the ball, especially going into Saturday’s 1 p.m. matchup with Auburn in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
LSU (18-4, 8-1 SEC) is averaging 14.7 turnovers a game in conference play after giving it away 38 times in its past two games, which could be a big problem against Auburn (16-6, 5-4) and a high-scoring offense led by guards Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and Samir Doughty.
Those three have combined to score 40.5 points a game, or nearly half of Auburn’s output of 83.9 points per game — which is second in the SEC.
It’s how Auburn does it that concerns Wade; Bruce Pearl’s team leads the SEC in 3-point field-goal percentage (41.2 percent) and 3-pointers made (12.0 per game) since the start of conference play.
Considering that LSU gave up 50 points off turnovers in its past two games against Arkansas and Mississippi State, it’s even more important to not give Auburn easy baskets — especially in transition after live-ball turnovers.
“We cannot, cannot, have live-ball turnovers,” Wade said. “If we have live-ball turnovers, Auburn is going to turn them into three points before we can even turn our heads to get back on defense (because) they play so fast.”
LSU committed 17 turnovers against Mississippi State but survived, mainly because it had only five in the second half and overtime period.
But in the first half, State used six LSU turnovers in a 3-minute, 44-second span to put together a 17-0 run while the Tigers had just one field-goal attempt in that stretch.
For Wade, it was reminiscent of LSU’s game at Auburn last year.
Fueled by a barrage of 3-pointers, Pearl’s team went on an 18-0 run early in the game and coasted to a 95-70 win.
Auburn buried 11 shots from beyond the arc in the first half alone and eventually finished 14 of 32.
Mustapha Heron, who has since transferred to St John’s, shot the lights out with four consecutive 3s and scored 14 points in the first four minutes that day.
While he’s gone, there’s enough to be concerned with as Brown and Harper rank among the top long-range shooters in the conference.
Brown is fourth at 41.1 percent, but that increases to 48.7 percent in conference. Harper, who runs the offense, is fifth in the SEC in hitting 38.6 percent of his 3-point attempts for the season.
LSU point guard Tremont Waters said they knew Auburn was going to shoot a lot of 3s last season, but didn’t expect Heron to go off like he did.
“Once he started to do that, we had to change up a lot of things and it just didn’t go well,” Waters said. “This year, our focus has to be on keeping Bryce Brown and Jared Harper from getting out in transition and just shooting 3s. That’s what fuels their fire as a team.”
The good news is, after correcting some early problems with its perimeter defense, LSU is holding league foes to 31.1 percent on 3-pointers.
Six of their nine conference opponents have been held below 30.0 percent and State made just eight from beyond the arc in 45 minutes Wednesday night.
“I thought we did a good job; they had been averaging 9.5 made 3s and they hit eight with overtime included,” Wade said. “I thought our guys did a good job of closing out on their shooters, knowing who their shooters were.”
WHAT: Auburn at LSU
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Pete Maravich Assembly Center
RADIO: WDGL-FM, 98.1; WWL-AM, 1350; KLWB-FM, 103.7
UP NEXT: at Kentucky, 6 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN)
• Halfway through the SEC schedule, LSU point guard Tremont Waters ranks second in conference games only in scoring (20.1), assists (6.4) and steals (2.8).
• LSU is 11-0 this season when 6-foot-11 senior forward Kavell Bigby-Williams plays 20 minutes or more. Bigby-Williams has five double-doubles in nine SEC games.
• Auburn guard Samir Doughty was with Will Wade at VCU for two seasons, averaging 9.0 points and 3.6 rebounds in 2017, before transferring when Wade left for LSU.
Auburn (16-6, 5-4 SEC)
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Jared Harper 5-11 Jr. 15.2 6.3*
G Bryce Brown 6-3 Sr. 17.0 2.2
G Samir Doughty 6-4 Jr. 8.3 3.7
F Anfernee McLemore 6-7 Jr. 7.0 4.5
F Chuma Okeke 6-8 So. 10.5 6.4
C Austin Wiley 6-11 Jr. 10.3 5.9
F Horace Spencer 6-8 Sr. 4.6 5.0
F Danjel Purifoy 6-7 Jr. 3.3 1.6
LSU (18-4, 8-1 SEC)
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Tremont Waters 5-11 So. 15.6 5.9*
G Skylar Mays 6-4 Jr. 13.1 3.1
G Marlon Taylor 6-5 Jr. 6.9 3.6
F Naz Reid 6-10 Fr. 13.9 6.0
F Kavell Bigby-Williams 6-11 Sr. 7.8 5.7
G Javonte Smart 6-4 Fr. 10.5 2.3*
F Emmitt Williams 6-6 Fr. 8.0 5.9
F Darius Days 6-6 Fr. 5.3 4.5