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LSU Basketball rolls with big second half in season opener against Wofford

LSU Basketball opened up its regular season with a 91-69 win over Wofford on Saturday afternoon. Tiger Blitz breaks down the game and how the Tigers used a great defensive effort in the second half to cruise to the win.

Twenty minutes into the 2016-17 season, LSU’s revamped, made-over basketball team had accomplished something pretty concrete, although not exactly what the Tigers or their fans hoped for.

That feat: Prompting the LSU faithful to think, say, spew in unison ‘Here we go again.’

To the Tigers’ credit, though, the second half was a completely different story and that’s a welcome notion for a team that is trying to eradicate the nasty taste of a promising season gone awry in 2015-16.

LSU leaned on a stingy second-half defensive performance dazzling official debuts from three newcomers and the best game of one veteran’s career to roar back from a first-half deficit and down Wofford 91-69 Saturday at the PMAC.

Duop Reath was spectacular in his Division I debut with 23 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals, Wayde Sims scored 13 and grabbed 8 rebounds and his former University High teammate Skylar Mays was instrumental on both ends of the court with 10 points, 6 assists  and no turnovers in 23 minutes.

Aaron Epps tacked on 17 points and 9 rebounds and buried three 3-pointers late in the first half to keep the Tigers (1-0) within range after the Terriers (0-1) threatened to put LSU in a double-digit hole.  

As shiny as all the offensive numbers were, though, this game turned around because of the Tigers’ defense and that wasn’t something that happened much last year.

Wofford grabbed a 43-39 halftime lead by shooting a blazing 53.1% (17 of 32) from the field, sparked by 7-for-13 accuracy (53.8%) from outside the 3-point arc.

Those were eerily familiar stats to a late-season swoon last winter when LSU unraveled down the stretch in a flurry of high-scoring performances from opponents. 

That made the message from Johnny Jones predictable at halftime. Even before then, though, the Tigers knew what had to be done.

“The guys got together prior to the coaches coming in and just told each other that we have to play with a better sense of urgency and get stops,” Mays said.

“He stressed that we had to a better job on the defensive and I think that showed in the second half.”

Indeed, things were night and day from one half to the next.

The Terriers flourished in the first half because small sharp-shooting guards Fletcher Magee, Eric Garcia and reserve Nathan Hoover kept finding and making open looks from outside the arc. That trio combined for 31 points by hitting 11-of-20 floor shots, 7-of-12 from deep. Because of how well those three guards shot, Wofford scored more from 3-point territory than from inside the arc (21-20).

“They’re one of the most deliberate and patient teams out there,” Jones said of the Terriers. “I thought that was on display in the first half with the way they executed offensively. They made plays and they’re excellent shooters from the 3-point line. I thought they did great job of making plays in the first half.”

Those plays dried up in the second half, thanks largely to LSU’s defense – Mays and Jalyn Patterson in particular.

Mays and Patterson, the Tigers’ two healthy point guards, spent much of the second period on the floor together. They spearheaded a defense that smothered Magee, Garcia and Hoover after halftime, refusing to give them open looks and forcing them to try and create shots. LSU also nudged Wofford’s less-deadly shooters into hoisting out-of-character shots.

The result was the Terriers missing 13 of their first 16 field goals after halftime on the way to an abysmal shooting half: 7-for-33 (21.2%), 1-for-9 from 3-point range and 26 points. Wofford had more turnovers than made field goals over the last 20 minutes of action.

“We knew they were setting a lot of screens and things like that, so we had to stay attached to our man,” Patterson said. He scored 7 points, all in the second half.

“We knew we had to disrupt their guards.”

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Once shot-making became a challenge for the Terriers, LSU seized control with crisp and clean play on the offensive end of the court.

Two follow shots and Epps’ transition layup on a feed from Mays helped the Tigers erase most of the halftime deficit. Hoover pumped in a 3-pointer off screen at the 18:16 juncture to push the lead back to 49-45, but that was the last time that Wofford had any semblance of control.

Reath swished a pair of free throws 18 seconds later and that triggered a 26-4 Tigers’ burst over the ensuing 9:11. Reath scored 11 of his 16 second-half points during that surge and Mays interspersed a pair of one-on-one drives.

During the game-turning run, LSU buried 9-of-16 field goals and 8-of-10 free throws to seize command.

Reath stayed active in the paint, with Patterson and Mays both rewarding him with made-to-order passes.

“These two guys have a really high basketball IQ, so it’s important that I always stay alert, keep my hands ready,” said Reath, who was 6-for-6 from the field in the second half. “They really stay on me about that in practice – always telling me to stay ready.”

That the Tigers were close enough to make a run in the early half was a huge credit to Sims and Epps.

Wofford’s sizzling shooting touch took a toll, and when Hoover cranked in a trey on the third shot of a possession with 2:49 left before halftime, the Terriers had a 37-28 lead.

LSU went to the other end and Epps buried a 3 to begin a stretch when he popped in three makes from outside the arc in 2:02.

“Teammates kept on giving me looks and I was open, so I just let it fly,” Epps said.

Added Jones, “We had to make some big shots. Aaron Epps hit some big 3s there in the first half for us.”

Before Epps’ late burst, Sims set the tone when he dumped in treys on two of four LSU offensive trips, the first two made field goals of the former high school center’s college career.

“That’s Wayde,” said Mays, who played four season and several years before that with Sims. “He’s confident and he plays within himself and doesn’t try to do anything outside of his game. They gave him open 3s and he was able to hit those shots He was taking them and they were falling.”

With the first game out of the way, LSU looks ahead to another home game at 7 p.m. Tuesday when Southern Miss comes to town. The Golden Eagles needed two overtimes to subdue NAIA for Tougaloo 101-96 on Friday.

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