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LSU 78, Gardner Webb 57: On the Come Up

LSU had its easiest game in nearly a month and cruised to a much-needed bounceback win.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

There's nitpicking to be had in any game, but that won't be the theme here.

LSU finally came out and put the proverbial foot on the throat, leaving the game never in doubt after the opening minutes. The Tigers seemed balanced and motivated, a team capable of keeping foes from doing whatever they want, be it on the boards or scoring the ball.

It's not ideal to see the Tigers slip up a bit in the second half but after what we've seen lately, this is a leap forward.

As has been well chronicled, it was defense and rebounding that had to show up and the effort was there on both fronts. LSU hammered the Bulldogs on the glass by a 54-35 margin and allowed a mere 23 first-half points. For the first time all season, opposing guards were not camping out in the paint against the Tiger defense.

And that literally just comes down to intensity. Whether it was getting hands in the passing lane, shuffling their feet or sliding over on the help side, LSU did the little things Wednesday night. It's easy to do that when you're 4-4, desperate and playing a completely overwhelmed opponent, so it doesn't mean a whole lot just yet. LSU needs to build off this.

The brightest spot was quite obviously Craig Victor. The heralded transfer forward was an immediate infusion of life to the frontcourt, and he even showed some range draining a silky-smooth 3-ball. He's no savior but he and Ben Simmons are an incredibly athletic duo, both more than capable offensively near the rim.

It also another solid outing for Aaron Epps, who may quietly be making a similar leap to Tim Quarterman's progression between freshman and sophomore seasons. Epps followed up quality minutes in the Houston loss with a double-double Wednesday night, including a perfect shooting mark from the field and at the free-throw line. If Epps can be a viable option should Simmons or Victor get in foul trouble, this team's depth will be a strength by conference play.

Beyond the forwards, it was a balanced night offensively for LSU. Antonio Blakeney's shot finally woke up a bit, Simmons was more assertive in the second half and even Darcy Malone collected a couple buckets. Keith Hornsby wasn't nearly as sharp in his second game but following up a 32-point debut will do that to you.

The turnovers became an issue in the second half and that may be a concern all season given how much this team likes to run in transition. Free-throw shooting, which cost LSU dearly in the Legends Classic losses, was again a major issue with a 12-for-29 effort.

But overall, there was a crisper feel to the product on the floor and a much smoother result. This is how LSU needs to win games this year. Don't rely too heavily on one player, use the lanky skillsets on defense, put in the work rebounding the ball and utilize depth to keep Simmons, Quarterman and Hornsby fresh enough on offense.

There's a positive vibe going forward, even if beating Gardner Webb ultimately doesn't say much. We'll take what we can get with this team right now.