Newcomers Shine in Hoops' Season Opener
Digital Media Reporter
Emmitt Williams, all energy all the time, couldn’t shake the pre-game jitters ahead of his collegiate debut.
The five-star recruit came off the bench in the Tigers’ two scrimmages, so when he found out he was getting the start Tuesday night against Southeastern, his sweat glands kicked into overdrive.
“To be serious with you, my first game, I was super nervous,” he said. “I was sweating bullets. I had to put on deodorant two times. I was super nervous.”
The nerves didn’t show. In 16 minutes, Williams tallied 12 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double in LSU’s 94-63 season-opening win.
“I was blessed to be out here,” said Williams, who grabbed a game-high seven offensive rebounds. “To be honest with you, I didn’t think I was starting. When I found out, I was like, ‘Oh crap, I’m starting. I better win this tip ball. If I don’t win this tip ball, I won’t ever be starting again probably.’”
Williams won the tip ball, and from there, the newcomers took over for the No. 23 Tigers. Led by 17 points from freshman Naz Reid and 15 from junior college transfer Marlon Taylor, LSU’s new faces combined to score 72 of the Tigers’ 94 points and grab 37 of their 43 rebounds.
Reid, a five-star signee in LSU’s fifth-ranked 2018 recruiting class, opened the action with a crowd-pleasing coast-to-coast ball-handling display capped off by a fingeroll layup dubbed the “jelly.”
The layup missed, but the effect was felt.
“Naz is unbelievably talented,” said junior guard Skylar Mays, who scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting. “He can push the ball off the rebound at 6-11. He’s basically a 6-11 point guard. He’s going to be scary for us. He’s a mismatch nightmare.”
In 21 minutes, Reid added six rebounds and two assists to his 17 points, but what caught his eye most was the play of his post partner, Williams.
“He’s an effort guy,” Reid said. “It’s crazy. He plays really hard. Since high school, as long as I’ve known him, he’s been playing hard. Once I see him on the boards, it’s like, ‘I’ve gotta go help him. He can’t be the only guy doing our job.’”
“Emmitt, that’s what he does,” said head coach Will Wade. “He guards, he’s tenacious on the glass. Some of those rebounds, he was the only guy in the gym who can get ‘em. You like it when that guy plays on your team.”
Williams said his mindset when he sees a shot go up is simple: “Go get it.”
“That’s my money,” he said. “I gotta go get it.”
Taylor, meanwhile, showcased his athleticism and sweet stroke, collecting his 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting in just 15 minutes of play. It took him until the 9:26 mark of the first half to check in, after being cleared to play the day of the game. A broken finger had limited him in practice and scrimmages, but he showed no rust.
Before the game, he said, he felt “no emotions.”
“I live for his,” he smiled. “I was just trying to bring energy and do my job to the best of my abilities.”
That included during warmups, when his high-flying dunks brought a large crowd to their feet.
Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) November 7, 2018
“Marlon played extremely well,” said Mays. “I was probably more excited for what he was going to do in warm ups than the game. He’s the best athlete I’ve played with.”
Taylor brought the energy after warmups, too. Wade pointed out a free throw offensive rebound Taylor secured in the second half that led to a three-pointer from Mays. The next play, Taylor swiped a steal and got a dunk for himself, putting LSU up 80-40 with 7:30 to play.
“I thought both of those guys brought energy,” Wade said of Taylor and Williams.
Two other freshman reached double figures in a balanced lineup that featured eight players with nine points or more. Darius Days scored 11 points and pulled down five rebounds, while Ja'vonte Smart, who was second only to Reid’s +26 with a +23 plus-minus, scored 10 points, with five rebounds, two assists, and no turnovers in 27 minutes.
Smart also helped key a defense that tallied enough deflections to meet Wade’s game-by-game goal, which was 40 a season ago.
“Steady Eddie,” Wade said of Smart. “That’s what he is. He’s tough. He makes the right play. You trust him out there. I was very, very proud of him.”
For Reid, Williams, and the rest of the LSU newcomers, it was good to get a win under their belts. Now, they’re looking for improved performances and less demand for deodorant.
“All these guys can play,” Reid said. “We’re all ready to go. We worked this hard to get this far, so I’m pretty sure we can do it.”