‘Our focus was through the roof,’ LSU coach Will Wade says after complete thrashing of Ole Miss

OXFORD, Miss. — By the time Will Wade sat down for his postgame news conference late Saturday night, it had been 48 hours since he put the finishing touches on his game plan for a matchup with No. 13 Missouri.

Yet here he was, sitting outside his team’s locker room in The Pavilion at Ole Miss waiting to discuss the Tigers’ complete 75-61 victory over the Rebels.

It could have been an episode from The Twilight Zone considering he and his team should have been preparing to depart from Columbia, Missouri.

But, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it was just a couple of usual days at the office.

By the time LSU’s chartered plane took off just before midnight, it had been a hectic, but satisfying, two days for the Tigers after learning at 1 p.m. Friday they would face Ole Miss instead of Missouri.

To be fair, Ole Miss had only a short time to prepare as well since it was scheduled to face South Carolina.

At least the Rebels didn’t have to fly to Tupelo on short notice and make the 55-mile drive to Oxford on Friday night after the buses were late arriving.

But, to borrow a phrase Ed Orgeron often uses, the Tigers didn’t blink.

They dominated from the start and controlled the game until the final two minutes, one of only two problems LSU encountered in collecting its first road win of the season.

For a team that struggled mightily in a 83-79 loss a week ago at Florida and had to dig deep to trip Georgia 94-92 in overtime at home three nights earlier, LSU was on point.

And Wade, who had to deal with the change in plans and an internal issue before heading to Ole Miss, had his team ready to turn in its best performance of the season.

“We looked like a totally different team … like a real team, a championship-level team,” he said. “Sometimes, when you get rid of some negativity, now good stuff happens.”

The good stuff happened early and often on both ends of the floor Saturday night.

LSU pressured Ole Miss from the start, forcing four turnovers and allowing the Rebels to get only four field-goal attempt — with each missing the mark — in the first 5½ minutes.

By then, LSU had a 15-5 lead that it increased to 26-9 at the 9:19 mark, building most of the cushion with leading scorer Cam Thomas playing just four minutes after turning his right ankle early in the game.

Wade said after the game that the injury isn’t believed to be serious, but Thomas likely will be questionable for Wednesday night’s home game with Arkansas.

While it was a big concern when it happened, that was the only major issue for the Tigers all evening.

They shot the ball well, especially from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half, were solid defensively, and, for the most part, played with energy.

They grabbed a 39-21 point halftime lead and never let the Rebels get the deficit below double digits after LSU took that early 10-point advantage.

The Tigers led by as many as 23 points with 15 minutes remaining before it got a little sloppy in the final two minutes.

Wade was particularly happy with the defensive performance after getting Ole Miss out of rhythm from the opening tip.

“You saw how active our defense was. We were all over the place and we closed out properly,” he said. “We took proper angles, we made them play with their weak hand. We did what we were supposed to do, and we were locked in.

“Some of our issues, we just hadn’t done what we were supposed to do. Tonight, we were ready to go.”

Case in point was star Ole Miss guard Devontae Shuler, who gashed LSU for 28 points in a loss to the Tigers in Baton Rouge last season.

Shuler, the Rebels’ leading scorer at 13.8 points a game, missed all nine of his field-goal attempts in the rematch — going 0 for 6 from long range — and scored just two points.

“He’s a great player,” said point guard Javonte Smart, who had 17 points. “Our focus was all-around team guarding, and he was at the top of the scouting report. So we wanted to shut him down and come out with the win.”

“We were ready to get steals and ready to disrupt, so I think that was our biggest thing,” forward Trendon Watford said. “We pressured the ball and got them to press a lot. So our practices have been paying off.”

Watford also came up big on offense, taking up some of the scoring slack from Thomas with a game-high 21 points, and had a team-high seven rebounds.

Darius Days, Eric Gaines, Mwani Wilkinson, Josh LeBlanc and Jalen Cook also played well on both ends.

“This is the team we can be … We played like how we need to play,” Wade said. “I told our guys afterward, we don’t need to go back. We’ve got to be moving forward from here on out with the way we prepared, the way we went about things.

“Our focus was through the roof. We were ready to go and I’m very, very pleased with our guys.”

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