BATON ROUGE, La. — If you’re missing a lot of your shots, you better make up for it with a lot of rebounds.
That was the LSU basketball team’s philosophy in the team’s 91-69 season-opening win over the Wofford Terriers Saturday afternoon. LSU’s offense was cold in the early going, shooting just 45.5 percent from the field in the first half. But eventually the Tigers’s superior size and anticipation took over, leading to LSU gathering 41 rebounds, 17 of which offensive, and posting 25 second-chance points.
But the game wasn’t as easy of a win for LSU as the score indicates. After LSU’s exhibition Monday where the Tigers allowed Reinhardt to make 13 3-pointers, the focus this week was on improving perimeter defense. But LSU fell into the same trap in the first half of Saturday’s game, allowing Wofford to convert of seven of their 13 first-half attempts from behind the arc and pull out to a 43-39 halftime lead.
“We knew coming into this afternoon’s game that we would have a very tough challenge in front of us,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “They’re one of the most patient, deliberate teams that are out there. In the first half, I thought that was on display. Offensively, they made plays.”
Duop Reath led the way for the Tigers on offense Saturday, posting 23 points and 14 rebounds, his first Division I double-double. Shooting guard and returning starter Antonio Blakeney had a tough time finding his shot, shooting 2-for-11 from the field, but he made up for it at the free-throw line where he was 6-for-6.
Player of the Game: Aaron Epps
Reath might have led the team in scoring, but Epps proved more crucial on the offensive glass.
The junior forward started Saturday with regular starter Craig Victor II serving a suspension and showed his value with 17 points and nine rebounds, six of which offensive. In a game where the LSU basketball team shot under 50 percent until there were four minutes left in the second half, the ability to secure the offensive glass was paramount, and Epps made it his purpose.
“I’m just hustling,” Epps said. “Crashing the glass, that’s definitely something that I’m focused on. That’s something that coach stresses to us and something I take pride in.”
Epps also showed off some ability from deep Saturday, shooting 3-of-4 from 3-point range.
Stat of the Game: 53.1 / 21.2
In the first half, Wofford came out electric, shooting 53.1 percent from the field. But the Terriers’s shooters went cold in the second half, only able to convert on 21.2 percent of their shots.
No longer having to play catchup, the LSU offense played looser and freer in the second half, unencumbered by the hot hands of its opponent.
“I think we did a great job,” freshman point guard Skylar Mays said. “I would say that they didn’t hit shots that they would normally make. But I think part of that had to do with us being more attached and doing a better job offensively.”
Less than a minute into the second half with LSU trailing by seven points, Epps fired up a 3-pointer and missed. Brandon Sampson cleaned up for Epps and put in a huge put-back dunk. Next time down the court, Mays missed a jumper. Reath did the same thing for him, throwing down a dunk off the offensive glass.
After this exchange, LSU began playing with an elevated level of energy and started work the ball into the paint more and more often, where the Tigers enjoyed a significant rebounding advantage and wore down the smaller Terriers.
The Tigers host Southern Miss on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. for the second game of the season. You will be able to watch that game on the SEC Network alternate channel.
— Nick Suss (@nicksuss) November 12, 2016