LSU jumped out early on Arkansas and was able to coast to its third straight conference win with an 92-76 effort fueled by aggressive on ball defense and a dominant presence in the paint.
LSU (9-2, 4-1) came out clicking on both ends of the floor, making it tough on the Razorbacks to hit a shot while simultaneously getting to the basket and dominating the paint. The first half was fueled by a 26-2 run by the Tigers that created a 31-9 advantage right out of the gate.
At one point in the first half, the Tigers had stretched the lead to 44-13 behind efficient offense but more importantly, stellar on ball defense. The Tigers forced 15 Razorback turnovers on the evening and were able to turn it into 18 points on the offensive end.
“Defense and energy, everyone was having fun. The bench was crazy,” forward Darius Days said. “Guys were yelling and screaming. Other guys made great plays and everyone had great energy for everybody and that’s what it takes for us to win and have great energy.”
Defense led to offense on more than one occasion, but it was the efficiency in which LSU scored in the paint that separated the Tigers in this one. LSU put up 48 points in the paint and was able to get to the free throw line an additional 24 times, knocking down 17 of them.
Coming into the game, Arkansas and LSU came in with the two highest scoring offenses in the country, in large part because of both team's ability to get to the free throw line. Arkansas came in averaging 88.6 points per game so for the Tigers to hold the Razorbacks to 76 points on 34% shooting points to the much improved defensive play over the last two games.
LSU was also able to control the boards, an area that has looked better in recent games after a struggle to start the season for the purple and gold. Arkansas came in leading the conference in rebounds but LSU out-rebounded the Razorbacks 48-39 in the win.
After being listed as a gametime decision following a turned ankle suffered against Ole Miss, freshman guard Cam Thomas was able to play and while he wasn't his normal efficient self, the freshman phenom did drop 17 points while Trendon Watford added 23 points and Darius Days secured an 18-point game with 13 rebounds.
“I felt I was going to go, when I was warming up. My ankle still far from 100% but I felt I needed to be out there for my team, making a difference,” Thomas said. “Just fight through the pain and keep moving on.”
It was a complete team effort from start to finish as all five LSU starters scored in double figures with Mwani Wilkinson pouring in 11 points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting and Javonte Smart adding 13 of his own.
From Wilkinson to Eric Gaines to Aundre Hyatt and Josh Leblanc, LSU continues to get great minutes from its role players, particularly on the defensive end.
“There’s a reason he’s in the starting lineup, he’s a winner,” Wade said of Wilkinson. “You have to account for him at all times. For this team, right now, he’s got the perfect skill set for what we’re looking for. We couldn’t have made a better player for what we’re trying to do.”
With a 20-24 point lead for most of the second half, LSU certainly didn't finish the game off the right way as the Razorbacks were able to cut the Tigers' down to 13 at one point late in the half. After the game, Will Wade said just how much fun it's been coaching this group.
"We've got a really, really good group. I haven't had this much fun coaching a team since I've been here," Wade said. "This is a fun group. Now I don't know where it's gonna lead but we've got great, great people and I'm very excited."
Up next for the purple and gold is another home outing with South Carolina, a team that has played just one SEC game due to COVID-19 protocols.