Even without Tremont Waters, Bowling Green had its hands full with the LSU basketball team’s backcourt Friday night.
Javonte Smart scored 17 of his 21 points in the first half and Skylar Mays added 18 — 10 coming in the second half — as No. 22 LSU opened its season with an 88-79 win over Bowling Green in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
They didn’t do it alone, however.
Forward Emmitt Williams had a career-high 21 points and forward Darius Days added 13 for the Tigers, who won their season opener for the sixth consecutive season.
It was the third season-opening win in a row under coach Will Wade, who returned to the Tigers’ bench after being suspended for the final five games of last season.
Smart started in place of Waters, who is playing on a two-way contract with the Boston Celtics, and got LSU’s season off to a hot start.
Smart poured in 15 of LSU’s first 24 points in a little more than 6½ minutes to turn an early six-point deficit into a four-point advantage with 9:32 left in the first half.
“They came out hot and had the early lead,” Mays said. “Javonte saved us. That’s what we want from him, to be aggressive. He’s a shot-maker, so we played off him and he got other guys going.”
Smart did it on a variety of shots, going 5 of 8 with three long 3-pointers from beyond the college arc that was extended by 16¾ inches this offseason, and added another basket to help LSU to a 46-36 halftime lead.
“I was just trying to bring some energy,” said Smart, who reached the 20-point mark for just the second time in his career and also had five assists. “We came out kind of slow, but I wanted to start the game off right and we eventually found our groove in the first half.”
A 19-0 run helped Wade’s team build a 15-point cushion before Bowling Green fought back just before halftime, drawing closer on some turnovers by the Tigers — who had nine giveaways in the first half and 16 for the game.
“Luckily, Javonte hit a bunch of tough shots, a bunch of tough jumpers and pullups … that sort of thing,” Wade said. “We were able to kind of hang in there and went on that 19-0 run. We just need to be more consistent. We can’t be up and down on the spurts.”
When Smart missed all four of his field-goal attempts to start the second half, Mays scored six quick points to help the Tigers build a double-digit lead after Bowling Green trimmed its 10-point halftime deficit to five in the first 5:06 of the second half.
Williams picked things up from there.
Starting the second half in place of freshman Trendon Watford after he picked up three first-half fouls, Williams scored 16 points while playing all 20 minutes to help LSU maintain its lead throughout the second half.
“It was a good season opener for me, but you can see my team played great,” Williams said. “They gave me the ball, so that’s how I got a lot of shots. I was just trying to go to the glass.”
After a slow start, Watford, a five-star recruit from Birmingham, Alabama, finished with 10 points.
Bowling Green, which didn’t show any signs of going away in the second half, got a game-high 26 points from guard Justin Turner, who was 10 of 19 from the field.
Guard Caleb Fields scored 17 points and guard Dylan Frye had 15 before fouling out.
LSU finished with 46 rebounds as five players had at least seven.
Smart and Mays had eight each, while Williams, Watford and Days had seven apiece.
“I thought out defense was really good,” Wade said. “We held them to 32% and our defensive rebounding was good. They made 14 threes, but they made some very tough 3s.”