LSU had a Plan B ready, but had to go to a Plan C for a Grade A win over Tennessee
BATON ROUGE — LSU coach Will Wade decided on Friday that the heart of his team — sophomore point guard Tremont Waters — would not play on Saturday.
Waters was ill, needed fluids, and doctors told Wade that Waters should not play for No. 13 LSU against No. 5 Tennessee in an 11 a.m. game on ESPN for first place in the Southeastern Conference in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
"So, we pretty much had to flip our game plan in a day," Wade said after his Tigers somehow defeated the Volunteers, 82-80, in overtime without Waters and his team-high 18.8 points, 6.3 assists and 2.7 assists in SEC play on Saturday afternoon in front of 13,581.
In addition to Friday's practice, where Wade had his team work on the "Without Waters" strategies, the Tigers had a bonus workout Saturday morning.
"We were basically walking through until we went on the court to warm up so we could get some things going," Wade said. "We were able to do that, and our guys were really locked in and focused."
The plan was to repeatedly get it to LSU's No. 2 scorer 6-foot-10 freshman power forward Naz Reid, who was averaging 15.1 points in SEC games and just had 29 in a win at Mississippi State on Feb. 6. But that quickly changed.
"The initial plan was to feed Naz the ball down low," Wade said. "Then he got the two fouls."
With 16:18 still to go in the first half, Reid left with two fouls. When he returned, he could not score. He finished 0-for-9 from the field.
"That really hurt us there," Wade said. "We had to go to Plan C from there."
LSU (22-5, 12-2 SEC) trailed for most of the first half, including by as many as six, and was down 36-31 at the break. Tennessee (24-3, 12-2 SEC) quickly went up by 41-32 early in the second half.
"I thought we turned the game by getting the ball in the paint and being able to beat them in the paint," Wade said.
Center Kavell Bigby-Williams scored eight of his 10 points after halftime, including back-to-back dunks at 16:35 and at 16:16 to get LSU within 41-36. The Tigers went on to outscore Tennessee, 22-10, in the paint and by 13-3 on put-backs after halftime. Tennessee also had nine turnovers after halftime to four by LSU.
"Being able to convert those points off turnovers was big," Wade said.
And point guard Javonte Smart, who started in place of Waters, went wild with 20 of his career-high 29 points after halftime. He scored 11 straight for LSU from the 5:52 mark of regulation to the 2:41 remained to cut a 64-55 Tennessee lead to 67-66.
Smart and fellow guard Skylar Mays kept driving the lane for points and hitting from the outside. Mays scored 23 with 15 after halftime.
"Me and Skylar said, 'Stay aggressive and just get to the rack,'" Smart said.
"We definitely needed to be a lot more aggressive without Tremont and tried to emulate what he does as much as possible," Mays said.
"Obviously, a tremendous, tremendous win for us under a lot of adversity," Wade said. "I told somebody before the game that it probably wasn't going to be as aesthetically pleasing (comparing Smart to Waters), but he's going to get it done."
Smart hit 4 of 4 free throws in the overtime, including the two for the 82-80 final with .6 seconds to go, along with a layup for six points. Bigby-Williams had four in the overtime with a dunk to open the scoring for a 73-71 lead and a tip-in after Reid's ninth miss of the game for an 80-80 tie.
LSU won without Waters, but it is not something it wants to have to continue doing. Waters is questionable for the Tigers' next game against Texas A&M at home on Tuesday at 8 p.m on ESPN2.
"Tremont leads most of our offense," Mays said. "He does a great job, and we cannot wait to get him back. Obviously, we are a better team when Tremont is on the floor. But with him not playing, everybody contributed."