Waters scores 28, LSU beats Vanderbilt 88-78
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — When Tremont Waters wasn’t jolting fans out of their seats with dazzling layups or pull-up jumpers from well behind the 3-point line, he was making history with his knack for helping his LSU teammates score.
Waters had 28 points and nine assists, and LSU beat Vanderbilt 88-78 on Tuesday night to keep the Commodores winless on the road.
“Waters was sensational tonight. No doubt he was the difference,” said Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew, noting that he tried several different defenders — and defensive schemes — against LSU’s 5-foot-11 star point guard. “You can’t key on him too much because he does a great job finding the open guy.”
Waters’ assist total for the season now stands at 160 — an LSU freshman record, eclipsing Ben Simmons’ mark of 158 two seasons ago.
“He’s a very valuable piece to what we’re doing,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “He played well and it just shows that he’s a really good player and a really, really good teammate, too.”
Wayde Sims scored a career-high 16 for LSU (16-11, 7-8 Southeastern Conference), which guaranteed itself a winning season one year after going 10-21 overall, including 2-16 in league play.
LSU’s best interior player, Duop Reath, played with a black brace on his injured left ankle and was in the game for only nine minutes. But Sims and Aaron Epps picked up the slack. Epps dunked four times and finished with 15 points. Sims threw down three dunks and Skylar Mays added 14 points for LSU.
Riley LaChance scored 26 for Vanderbilt (11-17, 5-10), which was coming off consecutive home victories. Jeff Roberson had 20 points and Saben Lee 15.
The Tigers led by as many as 15 points early in the second half and were still up by 11 before LaChance’s free throws with a little less than 10 minutes to go began a 7-2 run — capped by Roberson’s 3 — that tightened the score to 66-60.
But Waters repeatedly made momentum-changing plays, such as his steal from Roberson for a breakaway layup that made it 71-62 with about 5 minutes left.
“Tremont Waters is a really tough guard,” LaChance said. “He made it really hard on us.”
Vanderbilt was as close as six points again after Roberson’s free throws with 2:49 left. But Waters stunted Vandy’s momentum once more with a driving layup, and the Tigers made four straight free throws to go back up by 12 with 1:02 to go, virtually sealing LSU’s second straight victory and fifth straight at home.
“He was just in total control,” Wade said of Waters. “I was yelling at him to do one thing and he had already seen it beforehand, which is a read he couldn’t have made a month ago.
“When he plays like he did tonight, we’re going to be tough to beat,” Wade added.
Indeed, LSU improved to 10-0 this season when Waters has at least eight assists.
Breaking Simmons’ freshman assist mark, Waters said, “is just a moment in my life that my parents and I worked really hard on, just creating my character to be a giver.”
“It translates on the court,” Waters added.
Vanderbilt: While the Commodores appeared unfazed by the hostile environment on the offensive end, they had communication problems on defense. Vandy couldn’t contain Waters and defensive breakdowns led to several uncontested LSU dunks as Vanderbilt — which beat the Tigers in Nashville this season — fell to 0-12 away from home, including 0-10 in true road games.
LSU: While Reath has been one of the Tigers’ most dominant players this season, averaging about 13 points, the Tigers showed they could not just cope, but sometimes thrive, without him for significant periods of time. The Tigers still got to the rim with eight dunks, shot a season-best 63 percent and outscored Vandy 42-20 in the paint. LSU led 39-29 at halftime and never lost the lead in the second half.
Wade said the 6-11 Reath is getting healthy, but that limiting his playing time made sense against a Vandy squad that uses small lineups and shoots a lot of 3s.
“It actually worked out perfectly,” Wade said. “We won the game. We were able to rest him a little bit. We are obviously going to need him.”
Vanderbilt: Hosts Texas A&M on Saturday.
LSU: Visits Georgia on Saturday.