Skylar Mays Bounces Back, and So Do the 20-Win Tigers
It was a different formula for LSU in Saturday morning’s 64-50 win over Texas A&M.
A team dependent on two-point shots and free throws took 31 three pointers. A team struggling to find a defensive identity allowed just 50 points, tied for its best effort all season. A team used to five players scoring in double figures got just two.
But there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s more than one way to win a basketball game. And the Tigers just needed a win Saturday, no matter how it happened.
“A much-needed win,” said head coach Will Wade. “Proud of our guys and pleased with the effort.”
One constant for LSU all season has been the play of Skylar Mays. After a rare poor performance against Florida during the week, the senior stormed back Saturday: 24 points – 19 in the second half – and eight rebounds.
After setting the tone defensively in the first half, Mays finished the Aggies off offensively in the second, burying 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. In the game’s decisive stretch, Mays scored 8 of LSU’s 10 points and assisted the other two – a heads-up, fast-break bounce pass to Emmitt Williams for a rim-shattering slam – that doubled the Tiger lead from seven to 14.
“Bad games come with it,” said Mays. “I just wanted to make sure I didn’t play two bad ones back to back. I just wanted to be aggressive and make plays.”
His coach of three seasons wasn’t surprised at all.
“He’s always going to bounce back,” Wade said. “He’s such a great player, great person. I had no doubts. When we’re in a big spot and need a big shot, he hit two big threes today. That’s what he does.”
What was less expected was how well LSU defended on the day. Wade joked LSU usually gives up 50 points in a half, but the Tigers sat down and guarded for 40 minutes in the win. Mays provided the ball pressure in the first half at the point of attack, as LSU forced nine turnovers in the first 20 minutes. Williams and Darius Days, meanwhile, denied post feeds to Aggie forward Josh Nebo, who managed just three points before the half. The rest of the Tigers shrunk gaps, grabbed rebounds, and limited A&M to 40.8 percent shooting.
“Last game we gave up a lot of buckets,” said Javonte Smart, who joined Mays in double figures with 14 points, including 11 in the first half. “Lately we’ve been working on defense at practice. Skylar was telling just hold them under 50 points, and we tried our best to do that.”
“Skylar set the tone with his defense in the first half,” Wade added. “He really picked up Mitchell and forced him to play outside of his comfort zone. I thought that set a really, really good tone for our team. Anytime you have an on-ball defender out there in a stance, pressuring, staying between his man and the basket, it gets the rest of the team ready to guard.”
The win was big for the Tigers, giving them 20 victories in back-to-back seasons for the third time in 20 seasons, per Wade. It should solidify their NCAA Tournament status, sending them back to the dance in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2004-05 and 2005-06.
“We want to be a consistent program,” Wade said. “We’re not going to win the league every year. You’re not going to go to the Sweet 16 every year, but if you can get to the tournament on a consistent basis, you’re going to bust through and get to the second weekend or third weekend at some point.
“I think we took a positive step forward, but I don’t think by any means we’re safe. There’s more work to do.”
That means more wins to secure. By any means necessary.