BATON ROUGE – The LSU Tigers rallied from a 37-28 deficit with 2:49 to go in the first half of play Saturday afternoon and held Wofford to just 32 points the remainder of the game to score a strong 91-69 win over the Terriers in the opening game of the 2016-17 season at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center
The Tigers will try to go for a second win Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the Maravich Center against Southern Miss. It will be a student priority point night and there will be $2 tickets for those brining a canned food item to the game.
LSU, down four at the half, 43-39, outscored Wofford, 52-26, in the second half and made 19-of-33 shots in the half (57.6%) and 13-of-16 at the free throw line (81.3%).
Junior college transfer Duop Reath and third-year player Aaron Epps made their presence felt in the contest combining for 40 points and 23 rebounds on 16-of-23 shooting. Reath hit 9-of-13 shots in scoring a game-high 23 points and 14 rebounds with three blocks and three steals in becoming the sixth different player in the Johnny Jones era at LSU to have a 20-10 game.
Epps started the LSU rally late in the first half, scoring nine of LSU’s 11 final first-half points on three-point attempts. For the game, he hit 7-of-10 from the field and had 17 points and just missed a double double with nine rebounds in 21 minutes.
Baton Rouge native Skylar Mays started at point guard and had 10 points (5-of-9 shooting) with six assists and no turnovers in 23 minutes and another local product, Wayde Sims, came off the bench to score 13 points with eight boards.
Antonio Blakeney did not have a great shooting day but was 6-of-6 at the free throw line and finished with 10 points as the fifth Tiger in double figures.
Wofford’s Nathan Hoover hit four treys off the bench and finished with a game-high 18 points for the Terriers in 29 minutes. Last year’s Southern Conference Freshman of the Year Fletcher Magee hit 2-of-8 treys and 6-of-18 from the field and had 14 points and four assists. Cameron Jackson also added 14 points and Eric Garcia had 13.
For the game, LSU shot 34-of-66 or 51.5 percent, making 31-2 in the Coach Jones era when shooting 50 percent or more from the field. After shooting 17-of-32 in the first half (53.1%) and 7-of-13 from the arc (53.8%), the Terriers hit just 7-of-33 attempts in the final 20 minutes (21.2%) and 1-of-9 (11.1%) from the arc. For the game, Wofford shot 36.9% (24-65) and 8-of-22 from the arc (36.4%).
Both teams were good from the free throw line as Wofford made all 13 attempts and LSU was at 81 percent (17-of-21). With Blakeney’s 6-of-6 shooting, he has made 37-of-his-last-38 dating back to the last two minutes of the Florida game last season.
LSU out rebounded Wofford, 41-34, and after 21 assists in the exhibition against Reinhardt on Monday, the Tigers committed just seven assists in the season opener.
The teams played a very even first half for the first 15 minutes with eight ties, the last of the half coming at the 5:34 mark when Sims hit a trey to tie the game at 26-26. But then Wofford went on an 11-2 run to move out to the 37-28 advantage on a Hoover trey with 2:49 to go.
But then Epps went to work, hitting a trey off a Blakeney pass eight seconds later. Mays got a layup at the 1:59 mark and then Epps had treys at the 1:20 and the 35 second mark to close the first half scoring and the Tigers down just 43-39.
It would take the Tigers just 4:01 seconds to get the lead for good, even though it didn’t start out great after Eric Garcia was fouled on a three-pointer and made all three free throw attempts to push the lead back to 46-39 in the first seven seconds of the final half.
But LSU went to work with a renewed vigor on the defensive end that led to good offense as Brandon Sampson had a dunk and Epps followed with a dunk and a layin to make the Wofford lead, 46-45. After a Hoover three, the Tigers tied the game at 49-49 and then for the 10th and final time at 51-51 on a Reath layup.
Magee missed a layup for Wofford and after a Blakeney miss, Simms got the rebound and put it back in to give LSU the lead for good, 53-51 at the 15:59 mark. It was part of a 14-0 run that then included three free throws by Jalyn Patterson on a fouled trey attempt, one free throw by Reath, a major slam by Reath off a steal, another layup by Reath and a jumper by Blakeney.
That increased the score to 63-51 with 12:31 to play and Wofford never got closer than 10 as LSU opened the lead to as much as 24 late in the game.
The Tigers had a 50-24 lead in points in the game, 17-10 on points off turnovers and 25-13 on second chance points.
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HEAD COACH JOHNNY JONES
“We knew coming into this afternoon’s game that we’d have a very tough challenge. In fact I’ve been very familiar with Wofford’s program over the years and they’re one of the most deliberate and patient teams out there and Coach Mike Young has done an excellent job. I thought that was on display in the first half with the way they executed offensively. They made plays and they’re excellent shooters from the three-point line. I thought they did great job of making plays in the first half. I’m really proud of the guys and how they hung in there and offensively, we had to make some big shots. Aaron Epps hit some big three’s there in the first half for us. They came back out in the second half and did a great job of being connected and not getting their heads down. We got off to a great start there in the second half and did a good job of not looking back. I told them prior to the game that this is a new chapter and it's a journey and I thought they did a great job of getting off to a great start with a big victory here this afternoon.”
On Wofford’s three-point shooting…
“We talked about it at halftime but it was really staying connected and realizing those guys earned their shots and we had to try to run them off the three-point line and not allow them to continue to get into a rhythm and getting away from us. I thought our guys did a much better job of working extremely hard. I tried to keep them fresh as much as we possibly could and I think as the game played out we wore them down a little bit and they weren’t as quick in getting to their screens. They had to play a lot of minutes and I thought our guys did a good job of being active defensively.”
On the difference in Wofford’s three-point shooting from half to half…
“I think they made one three pointer in the second half and I think they made seven in the first half and that was huge for us. We were able to defend the great shooting of (Fletcher) Magee and the other players out there. I think to limit their looks by putting pressure on them and getting to the screens created some fast-break opportunities off of our defense. We did a much better job of rebounding in the second half than the first half. They did a good job shooting it, I think they shot 50-something percent (53.1%) in the first half and being able to hold them to around 20-percent shooting (21.4%) in the second half was huge for us because I thought it created some easy scoring opportunities for us. We pushed the pace a little bit and every time you allow them to control the tempo of the game and it’s to their liking, they’re comfortable. We were fortunate to get the game to our liking in up-tempo in the second half.”
LSU Player Quotes
Guard Skylar Mays
“The guys got together prior to the coaches coming in and just told each other that we have to play with a better sense of urgency.”
On missing layups in the first half…
“Just getting those jitters out. I just kept playing.”
On second half in the point-guard position…
“Taking what the defense gives you. Just trying to make plays for guys, that’s all it is.”
On playing for LSU in his hometown...
“It felt great especially seeing my family out there. But when you step out on the court you’re not focused on that as much. You’re just focused on doing whatever you can to help the team.”
Forward Aaron Epps
On starting the year…
“Just hustling, press … that’s something that I’ve really focused.”
On making threes…
“Teammates kept on giving me looks and I was open so I just let it fly”
Forward Duop Reath
On working with his teammates…
“These two guys (Mays, Patterson) have a really high basketball IQ so it’s really important that I always stay alert, keep my hands ready. They (the coaching staff) really stay on me about that in practice.
On perimeter defense forcing guards inside to face you and Aaron…
It made it really easy for me and Aaron. We had size already; we have to learn to take advantage of that.”
WOFFORD HEAD COACH MIKE YOUNG
“It was a pleasure to compete against the (LSU) Tigers. We played a pretty good ball game in the first half. I thought (LSU) Coach (Johnny) Jones and his staff made a couple of adjustments coming out of the locker room to start the second half that hurt us a little bit. They gave us a couple of looks offensively that we didn’t handle very well and that’s a credit to Johnny and his team.”
ON STARTING THE GAME WELL AND WITH ENERGY…
“The first week is hard. Teams don’t have a lot of film. You’re trying to mesh new kids into your program. I thought we caught them by surprise on a couple of things. Also, we scored the ball. It’s an easier game when the ball is going in the basket. We didn’t sustain it (the energy) when they played better than we did, but as can happen, their size and speed kind of took over a little bit. We weren’t quite tough enough to withstand that and they punched us out.”
ON WHERE THE TEAM GOES FROM HERE…
“We have a long way to go, but I’m very encouraged with some of the things that I saw against a good opponent and on the road. We’ll get back to South Carolina. We’ll keep pounding away at it. We’ll continue to get better as we move forward and so will Coach Jones and his Tiger team.”