It’s been a hot start to the season for Coach Will Wade and the Tigers. Locking in defensively and getting consistent bench production, this LSU team is looking like a well-oiled machine out the gate.
The bench has been a focal point in their success, but Cincinnati transfer Tari Eason has been the biggest piece, providing the spark off the bench this team has needed most. Averaging 14 points per contest on 48% shooting, Eason is the second leading scorer for this deep Tigers unit and leads the team in rebounds with eight per game in just 22 minutes a night.
Over the weekend in the Emerald Coast Classic, Eason put on display what Tiger fans saw through the first handful of games, getting his buckets religiously and giving defenses fits all night.
Eason is a nightmare for opposing teams. A mismatch on both ends of the floor, Eason can operate out of the pick and roll, get in the paint and even shoot a consistent three-ball. Wade didn’t need to see much of Eason before pushing to get him once he entered the transfer portal.
“It took five minutes of watching film on him to realize how good Eason was,” Wade said. “I was stunned at how talented he is and I think now everybody’s getting to see it.”
A three-level scorer, Eason has been the X-factor for this offense through their first seven games of the season. When the Tigers are in a cold spell, it’s been Eason who lifts them over the hump. When he comes off the bench, he's versatile enough defensively to switch one through five and hold his own, making him that much more dangerous as a player.
It’s been something special to see him operate with Xavier Pinson running the show. Pinson has been the floor general for the Tigers, making sure Eason is in his spots, and it’s really shown in their play when on the floor together.
"He can do it all. He can shoot, set screens, play the five and the four and him coming off the bench is the best thing for us," Pinson said. "To me he's the best sixth man in the country."
Through the first four games of the year, Eason notched three double-doubles, which Wade credits to his high motor and hustle on both ends of the floor. It's his defensive versatility that makes Eason such a polarizing player as he's got very active hands for a big and is athletic enough to go up and make game altering blocks as well.
"That's a one up or us because when teams try to go small, we can bring Tari in at the five so it's a win-win situation for us," Pinson said.
It’s clear Wade thinks highly of the first-year Tiger. In LSU’s victory over Penn State Friday night, Wade elected to start Eason in overtime when senior Darius Days was having a tough shooting night. The confidence to put him on the floor when the Tigers needed him most shows just how much this staff believes in his abilities.
Eason’s role continues to expand as the Tigers schedule heats up. Getting into the thick of their non-conference schedule before kicking off SEC play, Eason has been the glue-guy keeping this engine going.
As Wade and this team continue finding an identity, it’s evident Eason will be a focal point going forward. A mismatch for opponents and high motor on both ends, it’s clear he’s got next for the Tigers.
"I don't think there's anybody that would question he's not one of the best players on our team," Wade said. "He plays huge minutes and plays down the stretch. He's starting to shoot and make open threes which is really the next progression. He's continuing to progress and there's a bunch more steps he can take to get better."