The last time the LSU men’s basketball team was in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the Tigers were cutting down nets after winning the program’s first Southeastern Conference title in 10 teams — but they were doing so without coach Will Wade, who was serving a suspension for not cooperating with LSU’s investigation of his involvement in the FBI’s probe into college basketball.
Friday night, Wade and the Tigers returned to the PMAC like they never left for an 88-79 season-opening victory over Bowling Green.
Five Tigers were in double-digits in the win — sophomore forward Emmitt Williams put up a career-high 21 points and fellow sophomore point guard Javonte Smart looked to make a huge jump over the offseason with 21 points of his own. Senior Skylar Mays added 18 points, sophomore forward Darius Days had 13 and freshman Trendon Watford had 10.
Though opening with a win is always ideal, Wade felt like his team started the game “out of sync.”
“They came out very physical and they gave us a lot of resistance,” Wade said. “I think it took our guys, I don’t want to say by surprise, but we were playing on our heels and chasing them all over the court defensively and offensively.”
Bowling Green came out to an 18-12 lead halfway through the first half before the Tigers finally got settled into the game. The Falcons maintained that lead until LSU went on a 19-0 run soon after and went into halftime with a 46-36 lead, one which they would not relinquish.
Though the Tigers came back after getting settled in as a team, Wade emphasized a “major turnover problem.” LSU had 16 total turnovers to Bowling Green’s nine.
“We have to do a better job,” Wade said. “We were up 15 right there before the half and came down and had two-straight turnovers that changed the game a little bit. We have to be better there. Be sharp with the ball. Just be more consistent with what we are doing.”
The Tigers had five three-points during the 19-0 run and finished 38.9 percent from behind the arc.
The Falcons didn’t bow down though. They were able to cut the lead to just five points in the second half behind 26 points from guard Justin Turner and 17 points from guard Caleb Fields.
LSU made the real difference by dominating on defense and rebounding. LSU out-rebounded the Falcons 46-41. Bowling Green also shot just 32 percent from the field, though they did shoot 40 percent from the three-point line on 14 made threes.
It wasn’t a perfect win for LSU, but the Tigers dominated for most of the game regardless.
“We just needed to settle down and get in the rhythm of the game,” Mays said. “It was definitely good to see these guys get their feet wet. I’m just excited for this team. We feel like we could have been a lot better today but give credit to Bowling Green, especially those two guards (Dylan) Frye and (Justin) Turner. They hit some tough shots and made it a game. They are a quality team and we’re going to be happy with this win come March.”