MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Since taking the reins of the LSU basketball team in March, Will Wade has told anyone who will listen that winning on the road is the toughest thing to do in college athletics.
He didn’t need to remind the seven holdovers from last year’s squad that was just 1-10 in true road games, a mark that contributed to a 10-21 overall record and led to a massive overhaul of the program.
But Wade told his team anyway — more than once, apparently — to steel the Tigers for their first road game Thursday night at Memphis, a team that had won its first nine home games in the FedExForum.
So it was mission accomplished when LSU dug in during a decisive second half and took the fight to Memphis on both ends of the floor.
Wade’s team pushed the envelope on offense and was disruptive enough on defense to turn a 36-36 halftime tie into a 71-61 victory before 9,468 fans — many of them clad in purple and gold — on a frigid evening.
“Our kids are playing hard, and they want to win so bad,” Wade said after his team took control early in the second half and never let up. “They wanted to win this road game bad. I think they were sick and tired of hearing me say, 'We need to start winning on the road.’ ”
The important win, which was the 100th of Wade’s head coaching career, served more than one purpose when LSU jumped 40 spots on the official NCAA Rating Percentage Index from 158 to 118 and 49 places to 98th in ESPN’s RPI.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — For one half Thursday night, the numbers all went against the LSU basketball team — with one exception.
It also gave the Tigers’ confidence some juice in what was their final game before Southeastern Conference play begins Wednesday night against No. 16 Kentucky in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“This definitely boosts our confidence a lot, gives us an extra edge,” freshman guard Tremont Waters said after scoring 18 points and handing out eight assists — both game-highs. “It’s only one road win, so we can continue to get better.”
There’s no question about that in Wade’s mind.
In the first half, his worst fears about venturing out on the road were realized when LSU was shaky. The Tigers hit 43.3 percent of their field-goal attempts, shot just 50.0 percent from the free-throw line, and were out-rebounded 21-14.
The last number was the one that bothered Wade most.
But some halftime adjustments on both offense and defense did the trick and Skylar Mays scored 11 points during a 15-3 run in just under five minutes that helped LSU separate itself from Memphis.
Trailing 40-37 when Mays buried the first of his three 3-point baskets in that stretch, Wade’s team led 52-43 with 12:39 to play. LSU pushed the advantage to 11 points shortly after that and never let Memphis get closer than six the rest of the night.
If you think the LSU basketball team’s game at Memphis on Thursday night is just another ordinary, run-of-the-mill nonconference matchup, thin…
Switching defenses between man-to-man and a 2-3 zone slowed Memphis down in the first half after it scored 30 points in the first 13-plus minutes and totally flustered Tubby Smith’s team in the second half.
Memphis, which shot 45.2 percent from the floor in the first half, was just 8 of 22 for 28.6 percent in the second half — including a paltry 1 of 13 from 3-point range for 7.7 percent.
Smith's team also committed nine turnovers after halftime for a total of 16 in the game.
Point guard Jeremiah Martin, who was averaging 18.6 points a game, was held to 13. He was 4 of 14 from the field and missed all four of his shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
“The zone was pretty effective,” said Waters, who also had four steals. “We were finally able to push the lead out in the second half … we kept up the pace and made some good plays.”
“Yeah, (the zone) slowed them down,” Mays, who finished with 14 points, said. “We didn’t allow them to get in a rhythm in the second half. We were throwing different defenses at them and it made it hard for them.”
A flurry of emphatic fist pumps by Wade in the closing seconds made it official.
“Our guys were locked in,” he said. “It was a good road win, but we have to continue to get better and continue to improve.”