There were times Tuesday night when the LSU Lady Tigers struggled to get off to the kind of start they would have liked in their season opener against Sam Houston State.

They should have followed Ayana Mitchell’s lead all along.

LSU’s star forward poured in a double-double with 20 points and 15 rebounds, one off her career record, as the Lady Tigers pulled away from a three-point halftime lead for a 66-52 victory in the first game of a women’s-men’s doubleheader in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

“Ayana Mitchell played like one of the best players not only in our conference, but in the country,” LSU coach Nikki Fargas said. “She led the attack in every respect of the game.”

The Lady Tigers surged to an early 23-7 lead but were outscored 14-7 in the second quarter as Sam Houston, which was a dismal 4-23 last season, cut its halftime deficit to 31-28. LSU shot only 2-of-11 from the field in the quarter and was outrebounded 10-7.

“We started turning the ball over and got away from our defense,” guard Shanice Norton explained. “Coach Nikki pulled us in (at halftime) and got us back on track.”

Mitchell was a big reason why.

The junior asserted herself in the third quarter, overpowering the Bearkcats with 12 points and eight rebounds in the period to put LSU up 52-41 going to the fourth.

“We got away from our goals and plans” in the second quarter, Mitchell said. “We got kind of selfish. We came out in the third quarter and said, ‘OK, we can’t win the game individually.’ ”

Mitchell was one-third of LSU’s power trio last season that included guards Chloe Jackson and Raigyne Louis. They were LSU’s top two scorers with 18.1 and 16.1 points, respectively, while Mitchell averaged 11.0 points and led the Lady Tigers with 8.2 rebounds per contest.

Louis graduated and Jackson, in an offseason surprise, decided to transfer, winding up at Baylor. That left Mitchell to take up much more of LSU’s leadership reins.

“She’s somebody who was part of that trio last year when you look at the big three,” Fargas said. “She was in a supporting role. Now she’s the main character, if you will.”

Norton added 13 points for the Lady Tigers while Khayla Pointer had 11.

The Lady Tigers return to action at 1 p.m. Sunday against Northern Colorado. LSU was without guard Jaelyn Richard-Harris because of an ankle injury, but Fargas said she expects her to play Sunday.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​