Not this team. Not this season. Instead the Tigers delivered their best performance of the season in the SEC opener.
Playing without starter Johnny O'Bryant and key reserve Malcolm White, LSU roared out of the gate on fire and shrugged off the Rebels' second-half bid to mount a comeback on the way to an 81-55 triumph at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Justin Hamilton delivered a monster day with 23 points and 16 rebounds and Storm Warren added 15 points and 11 boards, the two Tigers big men making the absence of their two frontcourt companions almost indiscernible.
LSU's 26-point romp was its biggest win over an SEC foe since an 83-51 dismantling of the Rebels on Jan. 17, 2009, and was the largest margin of victory in a league opener since a 97-62 rout of Georgia on Jan. 8, 1953. The Tigers also notched a 26-point win (92-66) against Florida to start the 1981 SEC campaign.
"I thought we played well," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "I thought it was as probably as good as we've played terms in terms of our execution offensively."
Indeed, whether it was inside-out or outside-in, the Tigers (11-4, 1-0 SEC) did very little wrong in the game's opening minutes to bolt to a double-digit lead before the first TV timeout and a 20-point cushion not long after that.
Warren scored twice inside, Ralston Turner pumped in a 3-pointer and Warren tapped in a missed shot as LSU roared to a 9-1 lead to prompt a timeout by Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy with only 2:53 gone.
That didn't slow the Tigers down much as Turner converted a three-point play, and Hamilton got his day revved up with a reverse layup that ballooned the score to 14-3.
|Anthony Hickey delivered one of his best games in his SEC debut with 12 points (four 3-pointers), 7 assists and no turnovers.|
After a brief drought, LSU woke back up with an Andre Stringer-to-Hamilton alley-oop slam dunk, another fast-break layup by the Tigers' center, Anthony Hickey cranking in two of his four 3-pointers and Jalen Courtney coming off the bench to bury a trey.
That second flurry put LSU on top 29-9 and the Rebels (10-5, 0-1) struggled to melt that lead the rest of the day.
Of the Tigers' first 11 made field goals, they recorded eight assists, with Turner, Hickey and Stringer all making a concerted effort to feed the LSU big men. Hickey finished with 7 assists and no turnovers and supplied 12 points on four 3-pointers. Stringer had five helpers to go with 10 points.
"We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game," said Hamilton, who was 9-for-12 from the floor and 5-for-6 from the free-throw line. "They have a lot of quality bigs and we wanted to play smart. The guards did a god job of getting us the ball and we shared the ball well."
The result of the nearly flawless early execution was 50% shooting (12 of 24) in the game's initial 11:05. LSU turned the ball over only once in the first 20 minutes and only twice had spells of consecutive empty possessions.
Meanwhile, the Rebels couldn't do a whole heck of a lot right.
Coming in, Ole Miss had built some credibility with a solid non-conference slate with wins against Miami, Penn State and DePaul. But the Rebels seemed out of sync from the opening tip and missed 15 of its their 19 shots from the field.
While LSU guards were distributing the ball and taking care of it at the same time – 11 assists and 1 turnover in the opening period – the Rebels were the opposite with 10 turnovers and only two assists.
Like the Tigers, Ole Miss was without two key players. Leading scorer Dundecrous Nelson was dismissed from the team earlier in the week for allegedly failing a drug test and forward Murphy Holloway didn't dress out, missing his third straight game with a high ankle sprain.
It was apparent early and throughout the day that the Rebels did not adjust as well to their missing players as LSU did.
"It's easy for us to use excuses," Kennedy said after his team lost to LSU for the first time since 2009. "You lose your leading scorer (Nelson) and you lose your leading rebounder (Holloway), but in my mind that does not justify the inability to compete at an SEC level."
Ole Miss looked a little more SEC-ready when the second half began, melting a 44-24 halftime deficit to 46-30 when Monroe native Terrance Henry backed his way inside for a layup at the 17:12juncture to cap a 6-0 Rebels' burst.
All that seemed to do was bring the Tigers to life as Warren scored inside, Hamilton produced another transition hoop and Stringer pumped in a 3. The lead swelled as high as 63-34 when Hamilton swished a pair of free throws coming out of a timeout at the 11:11 mark.
|Justin Hamilton notched carer-highs in points (23) and rebounds (16) as the Tigers logged their most lopsided SEC opening win since 1953.|
That was part of Hamilton's 17-point second-half outburst. The Tigers' 7-footer seemed to corral every missed shot on both ends of the floor, and he got plenty of chances as Ole Miss shot a frosty 37.5% (19 of 55) and was nearly as bad from the foul stripe (15 of 26).
Although the Rebels found a groove late in the game and whittled the difference under 20 briefly on Reginald Buckner's dunk and Ladarius White's trey, they still didn't come close to cracking 60 points.
That's nothing new, of course, for LSU's defense. Ole Miss was the ninth straight foe that hasn't gotten to 60. The Tigers came up with 10 steals and played their usual clamp-down defense on the perimeter, holding the Rebels to two 3-pointers in only eight attempts.
The bottom line was LSU rolling to its most impressive win in a season that is starting to stir up some promise. The Tigers have matched their victory total from each of the last two seasons and served notice Saturday that their spot as an SEC bottom-feeder appears to be a thing of the past.
And that's no matter who's on the floor, an indication of LSU's improved depth and versatility.
"This is a much, much different team," Warren said. "We have depth and a lot of talent. Our confidence level is up."
Added Johnson, "I thought going into this year was that we were going to be in a situation that if we played well, defended well and did all the little things correctly, we would be able to withstand an injury or two. We got by (Saturday) and we will see what happens next game."
That next game is Wednesday when the Tigers venture on the road for the first time to take on Alabama at 8 p.m. at Coleman Coliseum.