January 7, 2012 11:10:00 PM
BATON ROUGE, La. -- It had been a long time since the LSU men's basketball team enjoyed such a performance in its Southeastern Conference opener as it did Saturday against the University of Mississippi.
The Tigers led from start to finish in a dominating 81-55 victory against the Rebels on Saturday. The 26-point margin of victory was the largest for LSU in a league opener since its 92-66 victory against Florida in the 1980-81 campaign.
Tigers teams with Chris Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal and a Final Four team with Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas were unable to accomplish what this LSU squad has done.
"We played extremely well," said Storm Warren, who matched his season-high with 15 points and collected a season-best 11 rebounds. "In practice, we work toward achieving our goals. We try to limit the mistakes we do make. It's hard to be perfect, but we're working to be perfect."
LSU (11-4) received major contributions from four of its five starters. The Tigers were without two members of their normal rotation. Starting power forward Johnny O'Bryant is out with a broken hand. Backup center Malcolm White missed the Ole Miss game due to the funeral of his grandmother.
Warren replaced O'Bryant in the starting lineup and responded with his best game of the season. Tigers starting center Justin Hamilton did the same as he finished with career highs in points with 23 and rebounds with 16.
"We miss guys like Johnny and Malcolm," Hamilton said. "They are a big part of our team. Collectively, I think we all know that when our number is called, we have to be smart and play hard no matter how long we're in."
LSU's starting backcourt of Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer also contributed to the lopsided victory. Hickey scored 12 points on four 3-pointers and handed out seven assists. Stringer finished with 10 points and five assists.
The 26-point victory was the Tigers' largest in a SEC game in six seasons. LSU defeated Georgia 81-52 during the 2005-06 campaign.
"This was probably as good as we have played in terms of execution offensively," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "Storm and Justin were really good when they needed to be. Anytime you can open up league play and play well, I think it is a positive."
There was nothing positive about the game for Ole Miss (10-5), which has lost four of its last five games. Dundrecous Nelson, the Rebels' top scorer, was dismissed from the team earlier this week. Murphy Holloway, Ole Miss' top rebounder, missed his third straight game with an ankle injury.
"It is easy for us to use excuses," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "You lose your leading scorer and you lose your leading rebounder, but that doesn't justify the inability to compete at a SEC level. All ten guys have to compete at a SEC level for us to have a chance. We did not do that enough today."
The Rebels had no player score in double figures. Terrance Henry, who was averaging 12 points per game, scored eight. Jarvis Summers, who had a ten-point scoring average, had seven.
"It hurt to lose by the amount we lost by," said Jelan Kendrick, who scored eight points. "It was an eye-opener for me and the guys that we have to get in the gym and work harder. We lacked in hustle and toughness today. We will all have to look in ourselves and find out why we lacked passion today."
It took LSU less than six minutes to build a double-digit lead. Three baskets by Warren and a 3-pointer and three-point play by Ralston Turner sparked the Tigers in the opening four minutes. A field goal by Hamilton put LSU on top 14-3 with 15:38 remaining before halftime.
The Tigers extended their advantage to 22 points after a 13-0 run. During that stretch, LSU got three 3-pointers -- two by Hickey and one by Jalen Courtney. Hamilton and Warren also scored baskets in that time as the Tigers moved ahead 29-7 with 8:54 left in the first half.
"We have to play harder," Ole Miss guard Nick Williams said. "That was not close to how we are supposed to play. The slow start was a surprise to me. I thought we were going to come out really excited to start SEC play. It just didn't happen."
LSU had a pair of 23-point leads in the final three minutes of the half. Ole Miss scored the last three points before halftime to reduce its deficit to 20 points at 44-24. The Tigers committed just one first-half turnover. The Rebels were guilty of ten turnovers which led to ten LSU points.
Ole Miss trailed by 16 points after a Henry basket early in the second half. But, the Tigers answered with an 8-2 run. Warren made a field goal, Hamilton converted a three-point play and Stringer connected on a 3-pointer as LSU went ahead 54-32.
Two free throws by Hamilton with 11:11 remaining in the game gave the Tigers their largest advantage of 29 points at 63-34. The Rebels came no closer than 18 points the rest of the day.
"We did a good job of sharing the ball," Hamilton said. "We knew we had to come out in the second half with the same intensity we had in the first half. We needed to put two halves together and make sure they didn't come back at all."