It would have been so easy for LSU to blow it Wednesday night.
The Tigers came into Wednesday’s game without their starting point guard. They would lose their best player, Tari Eason, after fouling out in just seven minutes of action. They would lose starting center Efton Reid to fouls as well; and on top of everything else they had to play in a hostile environment.
Instead the LSU men’s basketball team (15-1, 3-1) overcame every single readymade excuse and picked up maybe its most impressive win of the 2021-2022 season. And you know what? Not only did LSU beat Florida (9-6, 0-3), they never trailed.
“We’re built on a rock solid foundation,” Will Wade said. “We have unbelievable culture, connectedness, and togetherness. We’re built for moments like this.”
Moments like this look like sophomore Eric Gaines getting the start at point guard, grow before our eyes and close out Florida with a pair of tough finishes late.
BIG TIME PLAYERS STEP UP IN BIG TIME MOMENTS.— LSU Basketball (@LSUBasketball) January 13, 2022
ERIC GAINES IS A BIG TIME PLAYER. pic.twitter.com/b6zb0VWUXC
Moments like this look like Darius Days, a Florida native, starting 4-4 and finishing with 20 points, 6 boards, and 4 steals.
Moments like this look like Shareef O’Neal getting forced into his first bit of action this season and delivering 13 quality minutes.
Wednesday night wasn’t pretty but LSU had the crowd and refs against them and overcame both. Style points be damned, LSU is more than capable of surviving a rock fight; in fact with this type of defense it’s welcomed.
LSU held Florida to 36 percent shooting overall and 22 percent from three. Every time Florida threatened to tie the game, LSU slammed the door in the Gators face.
“The tougher the circumstances, the better we are and it don’t get much tougher than that,” Wade said. “On the road without two of our top three leading scorers in a hostile environment and we just dug it out.”
For a moment it looked like LSU would cruise to its first SEC road win of the season. LSU jumped out to a 9-2 lead and had a 14-point lead in both the first and second half. But LSU’s 14-point second half lead would shrink to two thanks in no small part to the efforts of Florida center Colin Castleton who would finish with 19 points, 9 boards, and 3 blocks.
But the Tigers wouldn’t back down. Not from Castleton’s imposing 7’ frame, not from ticky tack officiating, nor from a raucous crowd trying to will their Gators to a season-saving win. LSU matched Florida blow for blow and it would be the Tigers that landed the knockout punch.
“We’re going to lose some games, but it ain’t going to be because of lack of effort or toughness. We’re able to just will ourselves to make things happen,” Wade said. “We’re fighters, man. We’re fighters.”