The projected #1 pick in the 2016 NBA draft was on display last Saturday night at Memorial Gym. As expected, he put on a show. The 6’ 10” freshman forward by the name of Ben Simmons used his Southeastern Conference debut to remind everyone why he was the league’s pre-season player of the year.
In the SEC opener for both teams, the LSU Tigers (8-5) beat the Vanderbilt Commodores (8-5) 90-82.
“We just got out-played and outfought. I’m disappointed,” said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. Simmons had a double-double, scoring 36 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in 34 minutes. He had 18 at the end of the first half. He duplicated that total in the second half. Simmons also added four assists to go along with a steal and a block.
“To do that your first night out in this type of environment says a lot about him,” said LSU coach Johnny Jones.
Simmons dominated. He scored 11 straight in the first half, keeping LSU close. He scored over and over again, with dunks, lay-ups, jump hooks, you name it. He was unstoppable, not even containable. To make matters worse, he was 16 of 19 from the free throw line. At times throughout the second half, Simmons ran the point, handling the ball to slow down the tempo of the game when Vanderbilt went small. Simmons’ sidekick Keith Hornsby added 23 points and Craig Victor II added 11 as the Tigers picked up their fourth victory in five games. Jones has yet to lose to Vandy, improving to 5-0 and third straight at Memorial Gym. This is the third time LSU has opened SEC play on the road in Jones’ four seasons as coach.
Vanderbilt came in leading the SEC in scoring defense, holding opponents to 62 points a game, and third nationally, holding opponents to 36% shooting—not on this night. With 7’ 1” junior Luke Kornet out with a torn MCL, the Commodores struggled to slow Simmons down.
“I knew their bigs couldn’t guard me,” said Simmons.
The Tigers came into the game second in the conference, as far as scoring was concerned, with an average of 84 points a game. For the first 30 minutes, it looked as if it would be a down to the wire contest, like last season when LSU pulled that win out in overtime.
The teams swapped the lead 14 times with six ties. Vanderbilt led at the half 35-34. The Commodores last led 51-50 with a little over 14 minutes remaining on a three-pointer by Wade Baldwin IV. Hornsby would come right back, answering Baldwin’s three with one of his own, putting the Tigers ahead to stay. The Tigers continued to build that lead to as much as nine points, until the waning minutes. Vanderbilt got within four a couple of times, but to no avail.
Wade Baldwin IV led five Commodores in double figures with 17 points. Jeff Roberson added 13. Matthew Fisher-Davis threw in his 11 and Riley LaChance and Damian Jones each had 12. Four of the five losses Vandy now has, they’ve led at halftime. The Commodores managed just three offensive rebounds the whole game. The Tigers out-rebounded Vandy 40-29.