OXFORD, Miss. — Taking a deeper dive into some mundane-looking numbers made a difference for the LSU men’s basketball team in its 83-69 win over No. 18 Ole Miss on Tuesday night.
Going into the matchup, one of the first numbers that jumped off the stat sheet was the Rebels’ 3-point field-goal accuracy: 38.2 percent from beyond the arc for the season and 36.8 percent in a surprising 3-0 start in Southeastern Conference play.
Right after that was the differential at the free-throw line — especially in the league, where Ole Miss had outscored Vanderbilt, No. 11 Auburn and No. 14 Mississippi State by a wide 61-37 margin.
Which is what LSU coach Will Wade and his staff zeroed in on.
“They have just been killing people from the foul line,” Wade said late Tuesday night. “Everybody gets caught up in the 3-point shooting and all that, but that’s where their margin in their (SEC) wins is — at the foul line.”
So after playing to a 31-31 tie in the first half, in which LSU was fortunate to still be in the game at that point, the Tigers began attacking the paint area and succeeded in getting to the free-throw line more.
LSU wound up outscoring Ole Miss 20-12 in the paint in the second half and made 13 free throws to the Rebels’ five, finishing the game with a 20-9 edge at the line in the Tigers’ 14-point victory in The Pavilion at Ole Miss.
OXFORD, Miss. — In its last outing at Arkansas, defense was a major problem for the LSU men’s basketball team.
“The only way to control the foul line is to attack and force them to foul you, and get in there and guard without fouling,” Wade said. “Look at this (free-throw) margin — 11 points. And we won by 14.
“That’s where the margins have been for Ole Miss,” he said, “and we were able to flip the script tonight.”
The second half, which Wade said was one of the Tigers' best this season, was in stark contrast to a first half in which LSU shot just 35.7 percent from the field, was being outrebounded 24-12 at one point, was outscored in the paint 18-12 and committed 10 turnovers.
LSU (13-3, 3-0 SEC) turned it around with that parade to the free-throw line in the second half, however, and outscored Ole Miss 52-38 in the final 20 minutes.
LSU, whose biggest deficit after halftime was three points, pushed the lead to double digits midway through the second half and coasted to its sixth win in a row, while ending a 10-game winning streak for Ole Miss (13-3, 3-1).
Accordiung to LSU research, it was the Tigers’ largest margin of victory away from home against a ranked foe since a 16-point win over No. 20 Arkansas in the NCAA Midwest regional semifinals in 1981.
Point guard Tremont Waters scored 20 points — with 15 coming in the second half — and had nine assists, while 6-foot-11 forward Kavell Bigby-Williams did the job down low with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.
“Obviously, leaving the first half … it was terrible,” Waters said. “It was one of our worst halves, so we had to come in and erase it from our heads. That’s not what we’re made of. So we had to come out and push the basketball.”
The first two Southeastern Conference games for the LSU men’s basketball team has been a classic case of two extremes.
That meant getting the ball to Bigby-Williams and forward Naz Reid.
Bigby-Williams, who had no points and no rebounds in Saturday’s overtime win at Arkansas, had eight points and five rebounds at halftime Tuesday night, while Reid was scoreless with just three rebounds.
“In the first half, we played tentatively, didn’t attack, didn’t move the ball,” Wade said. “We really put an emphasis on attacking and getting in the paint and moving the ball in the second half.”
It worked as Reid was 4 of 5 from the field in scoring nine second-half points; Bigby-Williams was 2 of 4 in adding six points to his total and Waters was 5 of 6. That trio was 11 of 15 while LSU was 17 of 29 as a team for 58.6 percent.
When they weren’t scoring inside, they were getting to the line.
“We were able to get it done there and finish in the paint, finish at the rim,” Wade said. “I really thought our ball movement was much improved.”
They did it while protecting the ball better with only three second-half turnovers to finish with 13. They had 19 against Arkansas and 16 in the previous game with Alabama.
“Tre maybe had one turnover in the second half,” Wade said. “I thought he was great. … When he plays like that, we’re awfully tough to beat.”