Tigers Find "Different Way" to Win - at the Line, on the Glass
Digital Media Reporter
Call it intuition. Or maybe just good scouting.
Whatever the reason, LSU head coach Will Wade had a feeling his team would spend plenty of time at the free throw line Saturday afternoon against South Carolina.
So after practice Friday, Wade corralled his top nine players and made them stick around until each had made 100 free throws.
It didn’t take long.
“We shot those at 92 percent,” Wade said Saturday, following an 89-67 win over the Gamecocks, a win that saw the Tigers join Tennessee as the only teams unbeaten in conference play. “After about a two hour practice and a walk through. I felt like we were going to get fouled a lot tonight."
His feelings proved prophetic.
South Carolina entered Saturday's matchup of SEC unbeatens with an opponent free throw rate of 41 percent, the 313th worst in the country. That number jumped to 46 percent in conference play, which meant the Tigers (14-3, 4-0 SEC) knew they could butter their bread at the charity stripe on Saturday.
They did exactly that, hitting 32-of-35 (91.4 percent) for the night, including a perfect 19-of-19 after halftime.
“We have been working on free throws a lot,” Williams said. “And it shows.”
That’s not the only thing LSU’s been working on. The primary weaknesses of a team with seven straight wins under its belt have been rebounding and turnovers – too few of the former, and too many of the latter.
Skylar Mays’ five steals helped the Tigers generate 16 turnovers to the 13 they conceded. Tremont Waters (12 points, 5-9 FG, 2-5 3FG, 6 assists) continued his stellar play of late, finishing a game-high plus-23 in 25 minutes and earning about 10 minutes of praise from South Carolina head coach Frank Martin after the game.
"He's an unbelievable competitor that's got great instincts for the game,” Martin said of Waters. “He gets everybody involved. The competitor he is puts him over the top. I think he's phenomenal. He's one of my favorite players in the conference.”
The most surprising statistical victory, however, was also LSU’s most staggering: a 49-29 edge on the glass. LSU was eighth in rebounding margin and 12th in defensive rebounding percentage among SEC teams heading into Saturday’s game, but a regular emphasis on crashing the glass paid off.
Both Williams (15 points, 13 rebounds) and Kavell Bigby-Williams (12 points, 11 rebounds) registering double-doubles.
In terms of pure size, LSU appeared to be at a disadvantage against the Gamecocks, who rank 56th nationally in average height, far larger than LSU at 150.
But Wade preached agility over brawn in practice, and saw his message get through in the win.
“I told our guys, we have a quickness advantage,” he said. “We’re not as big as them, we’re not as bulky as them, but we’ve got to use our quickness. I thought we did that.”
The stats bear that out. The Tigers dominated the numbers that typically favor bigger teams, edging the Gamecocks not just on the glass, but also in points in the paint (42-32), offensive rebounds (15-6), dunks (10-4), and second chance points (20-12).
As a result, LSU has its second big win of the week, after knocking off No. 18 Ole Miss on the road on Tuesday. The Tigers will now enter next week with a chance to return to the top-25 polls nationally.
More importantly, they have a new formula for victory, another means of attack as the meat of the conference schedule approaches.
“It’s good to see us win a different way,” Wade said. “We were shooting 53-percent from three (as of late). That’s not necessarily sustainable all the time. You have to have other ways to win and for us to win when we didn’t shoot it well from three is certainly a positive. This is something we need to build off of.”