One of the questions coming into LSU's second true road test was could this team stay disciplined when Florida made a run?
Already facing adversity with the loss of senior guard Xavier Pinson, the Tigers would also face foul trouble but found a way to dig out another stressful SEC matchup with a 64-58 win over the Gators.
LSU came out firing on all cylinders offensively, playing one of its best floor games in the half court all season in the first half. The Tigers were fueled by early offense from senior Darius Days, who dropped 12 of his 20 total points in the first 13 minutes of the game.
Days was lights out all night long, particularly with LSU bigs Tari Eason and Efton Reid fighting foul issues all night. Eason, a frontrunner for SEC Player of the Year, fouled out in just seven minutes while Reid played just 13 minutes before fouling out. It added a layer of importance to the supporting cast to make up for three of the top eight players out.
And the Tigers received strong play from many throughout the game.
"I thought we got off to a great start," Will Wade said. "Give our guys credit, we're a tough out. We got guys that step up and come through for us. We wanted to attack that paint and we scored 42 points in the paint. Very proud of our guys. That's an incredible win."
With no Xavier Pinson in the rotation, all eyes naturally were glued to the Tigers' backcourt and Eric Gaines and Brandon Murray were able to answer the call. Both played with great pace to help LSU's offensive flow look as good as it has all season, shooting 50% from the field and only taking nine threes on the evening.
Gaines finished with a career high 15 points while Murray tacked on 10 more in an absolute team effort win with three key players down most of the game.
The high IQ and instincts of Murray really stood out in this game, even if it didn't show in his final stat line. He did a little bit of everything to help pick up the loss of Pinson, giving the Tigers 36 great minutes.
“It’s like having a fifth-year senior out there," Wade said of Murray. "He’s got such an awareness of everything. He’s got a winning quality and a winning characteristic that is second to none. It’s just in his DNA. He’s a freakin’ winner.”
LSU's offense had great movement to it in this one, which was one of the questions coming in without its senior guard Pinson. Very rarely did the Tigers force a shot on a Gators defense that coming in was turning teams over on nearly a quarter of its offensive possessions.
It was also a big night for forward Shareef O'Neal, who made his long awaited return to the floor after persistent foot injuries had kept him out. O'Neal had recently been cleared but was hard to break into the rotation with LSU's core eight meshing so well.
But when both Eason and Reid picked up three fouls, O'Neal's name was called and he gave LSU four great minutes to close the first half, scoring four points total on the night.
O'Neal's role would increase in the second half with both Eason and Reid picking up their fourth and fifth fouls in the first few minutes, finishing with four rebounds and a block as well as the four points.
"Shareef stepped up a lot. He was the x-factor, the difference maker for our team today," Days said.
"He gave tremendous minutes, he played his tail off. He came in and he was the difference maker," Wade said. "Tremendous job rebounding. Whatever coach told him to do, he came out and did it."
LSU did its best by double teaming Colin Castleton but ran into trouble when the Gators started hitting from the outside in the second half. The Gators would cut the LSU lead to two points at one point, with a 12-2 run in the middle of the half making it a game.
The Tigers will now come home for a Saturday showdown with Arkansas in the PMAC.