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POSTGAME: LSU 80, Houston 77

Aaron Epps explodes in an intense victory

NCAA Basketball: Houston at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

“LSU will need to play out of their minds on defense to have a shot tonight” I said in the Gamethread preview. They played out of their freaking bodies.

“To be the first team to out-rebound them all year, it shows our guys are tough and ready to play now,” said Coach Wade after the game. “I wasn’t pleased with how practice ended yesterday, so we got up early this morning and did an hour practice. Preparation breeds confidence, confidence breeds toughness.”

It’s not often I’ll argue the man of the match is someone other than Tre Waters, but Aaron Epps had the absolute game of his career Wednesday night. Just in case 26 points and 16 rebounds doesn’t impress you, would it help if I told you 8 of those rebounds were on offense? There were 22 combined offensive rebounds tonight, and Aaron Epps is responsible for over a third of them. Those 26 points didn’t happen by accident.

“I mean Epps is just...I’m really really happy for him,” Wade added. “He’s a talented, talented player and he’s worked so hard, he deserves to have a really good senior year. I’m just proud of him. He has it in him, he just needs a confidence jolt.”

And that confidence came from the very first shot of the game.

“I told him just shoot it the right way.” Coach Wade and the staff drew up a play that he knew would have Epps wide open to begin the game. “I’ll live if it misses, just shoot the right way.” And shoot it the right way he did.

“That man is a GOAT,” Tremont Waters added. “Epps is going to the league. He started off the game with an opening three and at that point I knew he was going to have a good game. He didn’t hesitate.”

Now, all that praise about Aaron Epps isn’t to take anything away from Tremont Waters. The freshman put up another insane stat line, scoring 17 points, dishing 6 assists, stole 3 balls, and blocked a shot in the final minute that all but sealed the deal for the Tigers.

Skylar Mays was an absolute defensive force out there tonight. The fantastic performance tonight was nothing short of a team effort, but Mays truly made a difference covering some of the best perimeter shooters in the nation. He also scored 18 points (6-6 FT) and snagged 9 rebounds, finishing only one rebound from a double double.

There were some screw ups and glaring weaknesses, at one point taking more than seven minutes to make a single shot from the field. But now’s not the time to fret over those issues. That was a huge, confidence boosting performance that’ll surely carry over to the SEC schedule, and they earned that win without Brandon Sampson.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves with that SEC schedule talk, we still have four games left in December. The Tigers will take on the 9-1 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks Saturday at noon, so unless you’re planning on attending the New Orleans Bowl, I’d suggest giving these Tigers a shot.