Not even leaky roof, no hot water can stop LSU basketball's meteoric ascension

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

BATON ROUGE – Late in No. 21 LSU basketball's 79-67 win over No. 18 Tennessee on Saturday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly center, guard Xavier Pinson went down with an ugly-looking injury.

Tennessee cut what had been a 20-point LSU lead to five 28 seconds later, and the Tigers had to respond.

As far as LSU coach Will Wade is concerned, it was just another instance of the Tigers' overcoming an obstacle.

"We're used to difficult circumstances," he said.

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS:Tennessee Vols vs. LSU Tigers men's basketball

"I mean, we don't even have frickin' hot water in here, all right? So we're used to doing well in difficult circumstances. The dang water heater is broken over here. We don't have hot water. The roof leaks. We have to move practice because the damn roof leaks, and we put the trash cans down and have to go to the second side of the floor when it rains the other day.

"Our guys are used to it," Wade added. "The tougher the situation, the better we do."

LSU Tigers forward Darius Days (4) drives to the basket against Tennessee Volunteers forward Olivier Nkamhoua (13)  during the Tigers' win Saturday at the PMAC.

First-world problems aside, circumstances early in SEC play have not been cushy for LSU (14-1, 2-1).

The Tigers were playing their third straight game Saturday against a ranked SEC team, including a conference-opening loss on Dec. 29 at now-No. 9 Auburn and Tuesday's 65-60 home win over No. 13 Kentucky.

That marks the first time in school history LSU has opened league play facing three straight AP-ranked opponents.

But Wade, known to complain when he sees fit, evidently welcomes that sort of adversity, and it's especially easy to swallow after home wins over both Kentucky and Tennessee in which LSU took care of business before boisterous PMAC crowds.

Attendance on Saturday was announced crowd 12,881 – 19th-largest since the PMAC was reconfigured in 2006.

"They kind of willed us down the stretch there," Wade said. "It was loud when when got those dunks after the defensive stops.

"That's what it's about. The student section was great. The crowd was great. It was close to a sellout. That's what you want. I mean, we beat two Top 20 teams in the country at home this week.…We probably haven't had too many weeks like around here. That's what you want. The fans showed out, and our kids deserve it."

The Tigers proved they deserve their national ranking, too, especially after playing the way they did against the Volunteers.

LSU and Tennessee have the nation's No. 1- and No. 2-rated teams according to KenPom defensive efficiencies, with LSU yielding just 55.6 points per game prior to Saturday and Tennessee at 60.4.

Yet the Tigers were able to shoot 53.3% in the first half against the Vols and 47.7% overall. Tari Eason had 24 points, including a posterizing dunk over Tennessee's Olivier Nkamhoua that made it 69-57 with less than eight minutes left. Darius Days (15 points) and Brandon Murray (13) were scoring, too, and Eason dominated the boards with a game-high 12 rebounds.

It's enough to make a convincing case the Tigers are for real, especially after they opened SEC play with their disappointing, but perhaps necessary, loss to Auburn. LSU had gone 14-0 in nonconference play prior to the loss.

"We really needed that loss, seriously," Days said. "You know, we were smiling on ourself a little too much. We needed to get knocked back down and go back to Square 1."

But now things are looking up.

A preliminary report showed Pinson's knee injury was perhaps only a sprain, not a major tear. The PMAC crowd has bought into the 2021-22 Tigers. Postgame smiles were as plentiful as in-game dunks as LSU prepares to visit Florida on Wednesday (6 p.m. CT, ESPN2/U).

Now if only that hot water heater and roof could get prepared before the Tigers return from Gainesville.

"Make sure you tweet that out," Wade said before exiting the press room for good Saturday, "so I can get that (expletive) fixed."