Photo by Rachel Street, LSU
LSU Basketball

Winning at home is critical in SEC play for LSU

January 7, 2019

Last season, LSU won its first two Southeastern Conference road games – at Texas A&M and at Arkansas.

However, those two victories were cancelled out because of the Tigers’ SEC start in the PMAC. LSU lost not one, not two, but three straight home games to begin its conference schedule. So, the Tigers opened SEC play with a 2-3 record in coach Will Wade’s first season.

LSU got things straightened out at home as it won its final six SEC games. The Tigers finished with a losing conference record as they never won another road game after coming away with victories in College Station and Fayetteville.

Wade did establish home court success in the final weeks of last season. In fact, LSU has a 15-game winning streak at the PMAC heading into its SEC opener against Alabama on Tuesday (8 p.m. Central/SEC Network).

The Tigers are expected to be a first-division team in the SEC this year. Moreover, LSU is projected to be a NCAA tournament team come March. In order to fulfill those expectations, the Tigers must win their matchups in the PMAC.

“We certainly have to win our home games,” Wade said. “Last year, we had a slow start at home in league play. In the last part of the year, we started to have a little more focus at home. You have to win at home and dig out what you can on the road. You must be a tough out at home.”

Alabama is not going to be an easy out for LSU. The Tide began its SEC schedule last Saturday with a 77-75 victory in Tuscaloosa against Kentucky. All five Crimson Tide starters scored at least ten points – the leader being 6-foot-6 post player Tevin Mack, who scored 22 points. Mack is a transfer from Texas.

Moreover, Avery Johnson has enjoyed success against LSU as Alabama’s coach. Under Johnson, the Tide has won five of six games against the Tigers. Last season, Alabama beat LSU by eight points at the PMAC and by 15 points in Tuscaloosa.

“Last year, Alabama took the ball out of Tremont (Waters’) hands,” Wade said. “Hopefully, we’re better equipped for that. We have to finish in the paint. It is a different animal finishing against those guys.

“Alabama is long and athletic. They are big at every position. Alabama is an elite defensive team because they switch so well. We must keep them off the glass – an area which we’ve been up and down this year.”

Wade refused to indicate his starting lineup against the Crimson Tide. However, it would be a surprise if the Tigers would open with Waters, Skylar Mays and Ja’vonte Smart all in the lineup. A small lineup would have trouble matching up Alabama, which has no one starter shorter than 6-3.

LSU will definitely have 6-10 Naz Reid in the starting lineup. The other two post players are 6-11 Kavell Bigby-Williams and 6-7 Emmitt Williams. None of those three players was in uniform for the Tigers last season. Wade hinted that 6-6 Marlon Taylor or 6-7 Darius Days could start at a wing.

“Last year, we had 6-4 guys guarding (Alabama’s) 6-10 guys,” Wade said. “This year, we’ll have 6-10 guys guarding 6-10 guys. Just being as tall doesn’t mean anything if you don’t do what you are supposed to do. Hopefully, we’ll bang around a little bit better than last year.”

Johnson also utilizes a deep rotation with ten players averaging double-digit minutes. Meanwhile, LSU will only have eight scholarship players in uniform for Tuesday’s game. Daryl Edwards remains unavailable because of a leg injury.

“Alabama has a ton of guys,” Wade said. “They have a ton of athletic bodies. (Johnson) tries guys out in the first half. Who plays well in the first half plays in the second half. He just tries a bunch of different guys and sticks with the guys playing well.

“This will be the real deal for us. We are going from the middle class to the wealthy. But, that’s why we came here – to compete against the best. We have to handle ourselves the right way. It is too late to cancel. It is time to rock and roll.”

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