For the first time as head coach of LSU, Will Wade and his Tigers are advancing in the SEC Tournament.
LSU (17-8, 11-6) won its quarterfinal matchup with Ole Miss 76-73 inside Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. The Tigers got phenomenal play from the front court tandem of Trendon Watford and Darius Days, while Cam Thomas came alive in the second half.
Watford led LSU in scoring with 24 points and seven rebounds. Darius Days was right behind Watford with a 20-point, 12-rebound double-double. Thomas finished the night with 18 points, scoring 14 in the second half including a pair of catch and shoot threes.
After a slow first half start LSU got rolling after the first media timeout, going on a 9-0 run to give the Tigers a 16-11 lead. The scoring burst was highlighted by Darius Days and Trendon Watford scoring lay ups on some tough finishes in the painted area.
LSU would keep the physical play going, getting easy looks at the rim and hit five of seven shots. By the under-eight timeout, LSU would build up a 22-15 lead and Darius Days was leading the way for LSU with eight points and three rebounds in 10 minutes.
That 22-15 lead was short lived as Ole Miss responded with some haymakers itself to get back within one and forced Will Wade to call timeout with 4:12 in the first half. Cam Thomas had a rough start to Friday’s game, missing six of seven shots.
LSU went into the break clinging to a 29-27 lead. This despite Thomas and Smart being held to six combined points and the Tigers shooting 38 percent shooting for the first 20 minutes. LSU’s lived in the paint in the first half—scoring 22 of its 29 points— but wasn’t good enough finishing at the rim, making nine of 20 layup attempts.
LSU opened the second half with a bang and scored seven points in 90 seconds. The half started with points as Smart found a wide open Days underneath the rim. Moments later, Smart hit a pull up three in transition, stole the ensuing Ole Miss possession and set Thomas up for a gorgeous floater to push LSU’s lead to nine.
But Ole Miss would answer back thanks to Jarkel Joiner erupting for 21 points in the second half, including five three-pointers. Joiner played all 40 minutes and led all players in scoring with 26 points. Eight of those points powered a 10-0 run that Ole Miss used to grab a 51-46 lead with 11:17 to play.
LSU wouldn’t blink. After a timeout, LSU outscored Ole Miss 30-22 over the game’s final nine minutes and the momentum swung right as Thomas got back in rhythm.
Thomas, one of the best free throw shooters in America, got to the line and made a crucial pair. That was all it took and Thomas drained two fast break threes from the elbow on consecutive possessions. The second three broke a 58-58 tie with 7:36 to play and gave LSU a lead it would not surrender.
Friday night was a chippy affair as both sides were playing with a tangible sense of urgency. Ole Miss, sitting squarely on the bubble, needed a win to grab one of those final four spots in the NCAA Tournament, while LSU needs a good showing to get off the 8/9 line. The Tigers and Rebels traded barbs and bombs but ultimately LSU was the team standing tall in the end.
With the win, LSU moves on to play Arkansas in the SEC Tournament semifinals Saturday afternoon at 2:30. LSU and the Hogs have split the season series 1-1 and the winner of Saturday’s rubber match will advance to the SEC Tournament championship game to play whoever wins the Alabama-Tennessee game.