More to LSU than freshman scorer

By: Bob Holt
Published: Wednesday, January 13, 2021
LSU's Trendon Watford (2) and Arkansas' Ethan Henderson (24) fight for position during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
LSU's Trendon Watford (2) and Arkansas' Ethan Henderson (24) fight for position during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

FAYETTEVILLE — LSU freshman guard Cameron Thomas — the SEC’s leading scorer — is questionable for tonight’s game against the University of Arkansas, but with or without him the Tigers have plenty of firepower.

That was evident when LSU won 75-61 at Ole Miss on Saturday despite Thomas being limited to four minutes because of an ankle injury and going scoreless to lower his average from 24.8 to 22.3 points per game.

“Usually when we play a team, you look at them and say they have one or two stars,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “This team has four stars.

“Four guys that can single-handedly take over games. I don’t know if there’s a more talented team in the league, but certainly, they are as talented as anybody in the league.”

The stars for LSU (8-2, 3-1 SEC) along with Thomas are sophomore forward Trendon Watford (17.8 ppg), junior guard Javonte Smart (15.4) and junior forward Darius Days (13.5).

LSU Coach Will Wade said he won’t know until shortly before tonight’s tipoff whether Thomas can play.

“Cam did a little bit of shooting [Tuesday morning],” Wade said. “We’ll see what he can do this afternoon when he can go through a workout and practice. Then we’ll see how he feels [today]. So he’ll be a game-time decision.”

Watford led LSU with 21 points, Smart had 17 and Days 15 as the Tigers jumped to a 23-7 lead against Ole Miss, then coasted to victory with Thomas watching from the bench.

“We’ve got four prolific scorers,” Wade said. “They’re very, very talented players. We try to give them space and give them matchups and let them go to work.”

Musselman expects Thomas to be at work tonight in the Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.

“We’re not thinking he’s not going to play,” Musselman said. “We’re not buying that. We’re planning on seeing him. We’re assuming that he’s going to play.”

The 6-4 Thomas can score on drives, is averaging 2.5 made three-pointers and has hit 62 of 68 free throws.

“Great confidence,” Musselman said of Thomas. “Can get his shot off whenever he wants. I mean, look at his free-throw shooting. That’s the one metric that NBA teams use as they try to project a player’s future.

“He can shoot over people, he can pump fake and use his escape dribble — meaning pump fake and go to his left, go to his right, go to his step-back game. He does not need much air space to get a clean look at the rim.”

Watford, Smart and Days all entered the NBA Draft last summer, then withdrew to return to LSU.

“A couple of them got feedback that they needed to come back, and one of them had a pretty tough decision,” Wade said. “They made the best decisions for themselves, and we’re certainly pleased to have them back because it’s helped our team quite a bit.”

Arkansas lost guards Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe to the NBA — Jones is with Houston and Joe with Philadelphia — rather than get them back for this season.

“We were 0 for 2 and they went 3 for 3,” Musselman said.

Wade didn’t want to put too much stock in the Tigers’ lopsided victory at Ole Miss considering that in the previous game they had to rally from a 10-point deficit with nine minutes left in regulation to win 94-92 in overtime at home over Georgia — which Arkansas then beat 99-69.

“We haven’t played well back to back all year,” Wade said. “We’ve just been up and down like a roller coaster almost. So we’ve got to have a little bit more consistency. Actually, a lot more consistency.”

Wade praised all nine of Arkansas’ healthy, available scholarship players and said he’s impressed with how the Razorbacks have adjusted to the loss of senior forward Justin Smith, who will miss his fourth consecutive game while recovering from ankle surgery.

“They’ve got a versatile, athletic team,” Wade said. “Coach Musselman puts them in good positions offensively and defensively.

“They’ll have a great defensive game plan. They always have some curveballs for you with their preparation.”

Arkansas and LSU are the SEC’s top two scoring teams with the Razorbacks averaging 88.2 games and the Tigers 85.6.

“We’re going to have to be a lot better in transition D than we’ve been,” Wade said. “Arkansas is just going to blow the ball up the court against us if we don’t.”

If Thomas can’t play tonight, a probable replacement is freshman guard Eric Gaines, who had 10 points off the bench at Ole Miss.

“We’ve been trying to give him more minutes,” Wade said. “There’s no doubt of his talent and how good he is. We believe in him.

“He’s a huge part of what we got going on now, he’s going to be a huge, huge part of our future. Want to continue to get him opportunities.”

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