If you had tuned out to LSU's season opener against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Thanksgiving after about the 12:04 mark of the first half, nobody would have blamed you. The Tigers led 22-4 and seemed poised for a blowout game one win over a team most LSU fans probably hadn't heard of before last weekend.
But a red hot Cougars offense found its footing and shredded the Tigers from three-point range to make it a too close for comfort 94-81 win for the purple and gold.
The Tigers hopped out to a 28-7 advantage in the first half, headlined by a sensational start from junior forward Darius Days, who began the game 5-for-5 with 14 points, including four three pointers.
That fast start wouldn't last for long as SIUE became absolute flamethrowers from beyond the arc. After a 2-for-11 start to the game, the Cougars went on to knock down nine of its next 12 shots to cut a once 21 point LSU lead to 10 with four minutes to go in the first half.
Three-point defense was a struggle for the Tigers last year and many times throughout the game, SIUE was left wide open in the corner for open looks. The Cougars knocked down 13 triples for the night and were able to shoot themselves back into the game after the fast start from the purple and gold.
However, LSU was able to combat the onslaught of three-pointers by knocking down 22 free throws to the 10 made by the Cougars and being relatively protective of the ball with nine turnovers.
Outside of Days, who finished the game with a career-high 24 points on the evening, freshman Cam Thomas, who Will Wade has called many times the most pure scorer he's ever seen at the high school level, poured in 27 while Trendon Watford added 13 points with nine assists and seven rebounds. Thomas became the 15th freshman to score at least 21 points in his debut performance since the 1976-77 season.
The Tigers came out flat on both sides of the floor in the second half to let the Cougars to, at one point in the final frame, cut the LSU lead to two points. But it was the freshman Thomas and junior Days who, when the Tigers always seemed to need a bucket, came through for their team.
Thomas poured in 16 of his 27 total points in the second half while Days added 10 more points, primarily dominating in the post to keep the Cougars from tying the game. The duo combined to score 26 of the Tigers 45 points in the final 20 minutes while the defense cracked down to force a 13-3 run that put the Tigers back up 15 with five minutes to play.
LSU will now have 48 hours to prepare for Saint Louis on Saturday at 2 p.m., who beat SIUE by 32 points on Wednesday.