JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As the LSU basketball team broke the huddle with 19.5 seconds left in its second-round NCAA tournament game Saturday, interim coach Tony Benford had a final message for Tremont Waters.
“Just make a play,” Waters said Benford told him.
Benford had drawn up a play for the Tigers’ 5-foot-9 point guard to probe Maryland’s 3-2 zone defense, a play assistant coach Greg Heiar calls “54 Get a Bucket.”
“That’s what I call it because it works every time,” Heiar said slyly.
It certainly did when LSU needed it Saturday.
Executing the play perfectly with teammate Naz Reid, Waters delivered a game-winning layup with 1.6 seconds left, giving No. 3-seeded LSU a thrilling 69-67 win over sixth-seeded Maryland in Veterans Memorial Arena.
With the game tied at 67 after a 3-point basket by Maryland’s Jalen Smith with 25 seconds to play, Waters patiently worked the clock while the play developed.
With 7 seconds left, Waters, who got a screen from Reid at the top of the key, split two defenders while angling toward the goal and twirled an underhanded shot off the glass to send 12th-ranked LSU to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006.
Oddly enough, that Sweet 16 berth came in the same building 13 years earlier.
Darrel Mitchell’s long 3-point shot with the clock winding down gave LSU a one-point win over Texas A&M, and the clutch shot was a key to the Tigers' march to the Final Four.
LSU (28-6) will meet the Michigan State-Minnesota winner in the East regional semifinals Friday night in Washington at a time to be determined Sunday, while Maryland (23-11) fell just short in its bid to continue its season in its backyard.
Tremont Waters: Hits game-winning shot for LSU vs. Maryland. Helps team advance to Sweet 16. And...
Waters put the play into motion when Reid set a screen on Maryland guard Darryl Morsell, which allowed Waters to get around the corner and attack the basket.
Challenging Maryland’s Eric Ayala and Smith, a 6-foot-10 forward, Waters dribbled right between them and kissed the ball off the glass and gently into the net.
“He knows how to read the defense ... we kind of just told him to read the play," Reid said. "We said, ‘If it’s open, it’s open.’ Once Tre did what he does best, we knew the ball was going in or he was going to draw a foul.
“We wanted to get him downhill with a full head of steam coming off the screen. When Tre’s at full speed like that, it’s hard to stop him. ... He’s too crafty.”
Watching a few feet away from the LSU bench, forward Darius Days, like Reid, said he knew it was over when Waters blew by Smith and Ayala.
“He crossed over and beat his man, then cuffed the ball and laid it high off the glass,” a smiling Days said. “Then, (the ball) went, ‘boom, boom’ and went in.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — With eight players all considered to be starters, the LSU basketball team has relied all season on a lot of bench scoring.
What made the play work, Heiar said, was the decision to spread the floor. Reid came from the low post to set the screen, while Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart camped out in opposite corners.
“I figured he was going to find a way to get the ball to the backboard,” Heiar said when asked if Waters had the option to kick the ball out. “When you put the ball in Tre’s hands, you trust him so much you know he’s going to make the right decision ... and he did make the right decision to win the game.
“Now, it was a hard one. He has a real crafty finish; he put a lot of English on that ball.”
Benford added: “It was a play we’ve run a few times during the year. We knew we had to do a great job screening that top guy (Morsell) and we told Naz whoever was up there to put a body on him. Naz did a great job and Tre made a great play.”
Waters, who had 12 points and five assists, said it was comforting to know the Tigers would still have overtime if his shot didn’t fall.
“It’s kind of a burden off your shoulders, knowing if you missed it the game would go to overtime,” he said. “But in that moment, you want to score so you don’t have to go into overtime. You don’t know how things would have gone.”
That Waters had a chance to win it was, in part, due to the efforts of Mays and Reid down the stretch.
With 1.6 seconds left and the second-round NCAA tournament game tied at 67, LSU guard Tremont Waters drove to the basket into the teeth of Mar…
LSU held a 15-point lead on three occasions, the last at the 16:00 mark, but Maryland battled back each time.
The Terrapins outscored the Tigers 26-9 over a 10-minute stretch to take their first lead at 57-55 with 5:48 to play.
Mays hit a big 3-pointer to tie the game at 60 with 4:19 left, then scored five points in a row to give his team a three-point advantage before Smith’s 3-point shot from the corner tied it again with 25 seconds remaining.
Mays finished with a game-high 16 points, while Reid had 13 and Days 10.
Smith led Maryland with 15 points and Anthony Cowan and Aaron Wiggins had 11 each.
Bruno Fernando, who averages a double-double for the season, had 10 points and a game-high 15 rebounds, and Morsell had 10 points as well.
Reid also had a big rebound that led to Mays’ last 3-pointer with 36 seconds left and Smith’s clutch shot from beyond the arc — setting up Waters for a possible spot in “One Shining Moment” at the tournament’s conclusion.
“Yeah, I feel like every kid dreams of that moment — to make a game-winning shot in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “I don’t know how I feel right now.
"I’ll give it some time, let it settle in and enjoy it with my teammates, my family and the coaching staff.”