BATON ROUGE, La. — Consider LSU basketball coach Will Wade’s first goal met.
Despite the surprise choice to relegate senior forward Duop Reath to the bench at the start of the game, LSU’s offense dominated Vanderbilt from start to finish on Tuesday night, defeating the Commodores 88-78. The win improved LSU to 16-11 on the season, guaranteeing the Tigers a winning record for the season, and to 7-8 in SEC play.
On Monday, Wade said his first goal upon arriving at LSU was to lead the Tigers to a winning season. With three games remaining in the regular season and a minimum of one game in the SEC Tournament, the Tigers sit five games above .500. With only four guaranteed games left, LSU assured it will head into any hypothetical postseason with a winning record.
“Winning season, huh,” Wade said postgame. “16 wins. How bout that? We’ve got 16. Now we’ve got to move on from there, try to get 17. Alright? Try to get back to even in the SEC. But getting to 16 was good. Really good. Probably wouldn’t have had many takers on that at the beginning of the year.”
Freshman point guard Tremont Waters proved his abilities as a play-maker and as a distributor, finishing with 28 points and 9 assists, breaking the LSU school record for assists as a freshman, previously held by Ben Simmons. Starting in Reath’s stead, sophomore forward Wayde Sims played his best game of the season, scoring a career-high 16 points on 6-of-6 shooting.
“He’s hit 3s in back-to-back games,” Wade said of Sims. “He’s certainly making up for lost time, which is good. I’m proud of him. He’s been working hard. He’s come back around. That opens everything up when he plays like that.”
Senior Aaron Epps, the only traditional big man LSU started, added 15 points and 8 rebounds while Reath was quiet with 3 points. When LSU and Vanderbilt played in January, Reath scored a career-high 31 points in a losing effort.
What the Tigers lacked in size, they made up for by making shots. LSU shot 63 percent from the field, including 9-for-19 from 3-point range on Tuesday. Waters led the way with a 3-of-7 night from 3-point range and sophomore point guard Skylar Mays went 2-for-3 in his own right. Vanderbilt, for what it’s worth, also shot well from deep, converting on 14 of its 39 3-point attempts.
“The entire coaching staff was telling me to create and make plays,” Waters said. “They told me to get into the paint, get to the SEC and spread the ball. So I was able to open things up.”
For as well as LSU’s offense played, Vanderbilt’s offense kept pace. The Commodores shot 53.3 percent from the field in the second half, an impressive amount. But LSU shot 75 percent in the second half, proving able to build a lead despite Vanderbilt’s 16-shot advantage in overall shots taken.
What’s next for LSU basketball?
The Tigers travel to Athens, Ga., on Saturday for a matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs. The game is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPNU.