NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Here’s how good the Southeastern Conference’s regular-season champ is: No. 17 LSU had two starters ailing and still turned in one of its best games yet.
Tyrus Thomas watched from the bench, and point guard Darrel Mitchell tied a season-low with six points, but Glen Davis matched his career-high of 28 points and finished with 13 rebounds to lead the Tigers to a 92-73 victory over Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament quarterfinals Friday night.
Tasmin Mitchell matched his career best with 20 points in LSU’s third-highest scoring game this season. Darnell Lazare replaced Thomas and had 16, while Garrett Temple, a 25-percent shooter from beyond the arc, hit 4-of-6 and finished with a career-high 14 points.
“Certainly our team has a nice confident way about it right now,” LSU coach John Brady said. “The execution we showed tonight and the way we shot the ball and rebounded the ball was quite good. I can’t pay enough compliments to these three guys here and the rest of our team.”
The Tigers reached the tournament semifinals for the fifth time in seven years despite the absence of Thomas, the SEC’s top freshman who sat out with a sprained left ankle.
Brady had said he planned to rest him to be as healthy as possible for the NCAA tournament with nothing to prove here. He may have to rest Mitchell, who tweaked his right ankle but finished the game while scoring well below his 17.8-point average.
The Tigers (23-7) have not won a league tournament since 1980, but they couldn’t be hotter after winning their seventh straight game. They will play No. 16 Florida, a 74-71 winner over Arkansas, in the semis on Saturday.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said LSU overwhelmed his Commodores.
“They were quicker to balls, and Davis was obviously dominant in every facet. That’s probably the best I’ve seen LSU play with or without Tyrus Thomas, and I didn’t think they were capable of playing as well without him as they could play with him,” Stallings said.
Vanderbilt was trying for its second trip to the semifinals in three years, but the Commodores (17-12) had no answer for the 6-foot-9, 310-pound Davis. He hit jumper after jumper outside, including a 3-pointer, in what he called his best shooting night since getting 45 in high school.
“It just felt like a big old, just an ocean you know? It’s just, I felt it tonight. Just one of those nights. What can I say?” Davis said.
The Tigers outrebounded Vanderbilt 34-25 and shot 56.7 percent from the field, including 8-of-14 outside the arc.
Derrick Byars led Vanderbilt with 17 points. Shan Foster and Julian Terrell each added 13.
LSU took control from the start, scoring the first nine points. Even without Thomas, the SEC’s leading shot blocker and second-leading rebounder, Davis, the SEC coaches’ player of the year, took his first four shots from outside and missed only one.
The Commodores tied it at 10 before Temple hit a 3 to put LSU ahead to stay. Davis didn’t score inside until he drove to the basket with 11:55 left in the first half.
Byars tried to keep Vandy in the game, hitting his first three 3-pointers, the last pulling the Commodores within 30-26.
But Davis, who played every minute of the first half, scrambled after a loose ball and took a referee with him into a crowd of photographers at the end of the court. From there, LSU outscored Vandy 14-4 and took a 44-30 lead into halftime. Davis had 19 points at the break.
Stallings tried to question the lack of any fouls on Davis as the teams went to the locker rooms and drew a technical from crew chief Mike Stuart. Stallings said he was a little surprised by the reaction.
“I just wanted to ask a question. I even motioned for John to come over. I was trying to interrupt his television interview so he could hear the question I was going to ask. You’re supposed to have the other coach present, and apparently Mike did not like the notion that I wanted to ask a question at midcourt,” Stallings said.
“Can’t say that I blame him.”
Tasmin Mitchell hit the first of two free throws at the start of the second half, but that didn’t stop Stallings from yelling at one point, “Don’t be afraid to call a foul on him just because he’s player of the year.”
The Tigers led by as much as 25 in the second half.