BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) LSU coach Johnny Jones had all three of his highly regarded freshmen in the starting lineup against McNeese State in the opener Friday night.
Antonio Blakeney, Ben Simmons and Brandon Sampson backed up their coach's decision in the Tigers' 81-70 victory over the Cowboys.
Blakeney had 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Simmons finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds. They were projected to be starters from the time they signed with LSU.
''I really wanted to come out and focus on defense and rebounding,'' Blakeney said. ''My teammates and coaches believe in me to make plays and that's what I did. I think I rebounded well, but I did better in the second half.''
Sampson, who was in the starting lineup as a replacement for the injured Keith Hornsby, made four 3-pointers and finished with 18 points. So, the three freshmen combined for 51 points and 26 rebounds.
''I'm glad that Antonio and Brandon are here because none of this hype would happen without them,'' Simmons said. ''We are getting better every day on the floor. We have a long season ahead and we are going to keep getting better every day.''
Jamaya Burr led McNeese State with 18 points, and Craig McFerrin had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
''Obviously, this wasn't the outcome we wanted,'' McNeese coach Dave Simmons said. ''This is a tough game to start off with. LSU is very talented. Ben Simmons is everything they have said he is. Blakeney and Sampson can really shoot the ball. LSU has a lot of weapons.''
LSU scored 27 straight points in an 8 1/2-minute stretch that spanned halftime. The Tigers led for nearly the entire first half, but didn't take a double-digit advantage until Tim Quarterman, who had 11 points, made two free throws with 5:57 left to make it 29-19.
McNeese cut it to 34-27 on Burr's two free throws with 2:27 left in the first half. LSU closed the half on a 7-0 run to establish its largest lead at 41-27. Blakeney made a field goal and three of four free throws, while Simmons finished the scoring with a dunk.
The Tigers made sure there was no comeback by the Cowboys as they scored the first 20 points after halftime. Elbert Robinson started the run with two baskets. LSU got four 3-pointers in that time - three by Sampson and one by Quarterman. Two foul shots by Simmons put the Tigers ahead 61-27.
When LSU had substitutes in the game over the final few minutes, McNeese reduced its deficit to the final margin of 11 points.
McNeese: The Cowboys are 0-24 against the Tigers.
LSU: The Tigers have won 19 of their last 20 openers, with their only setback coming two years ago at Massachusetts. LSU has not lost a season-opener at home since 1986 when it was beaten by TCU.
LSU was without three members of their rotation. Keith Hornsby will be out until at least mid-December as he recovers from a medical procedure. Backup point guard Josh Gray served a one-game suspension for participating in a non-sanctioned summer league game. Post player Craig Victor is ineligible until the end of the fall semester after transferring from Arizona.
PLAYING UNTIL THE END
After giving up 27 straight points, McNeese trailed 61-27 with 13:51 remaining. However, the Cowboys continued to take the fight to the Tigers. McNeese outscored LSU 43-20 the rest of the game. Burr scored 15 of his 18 points during that stretch.
FOUL LINE MISHAPS
LSU put up good shooting numbers from the field. The Tigers made 46 percent of their field goal attempts (28-of-61), including 45 percent of their 3-point shots (9-of-20). However, LSU's free throwing shooting left much to be desired. The Tigers made just half of their foul shots (16-of-32).
McNeese hosts Louisiana College on Tuesday.
LSU hosts Kennesaw State on Monday.