LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Tremont Waters hit a step-back jumper, got back into his defensive and poked the ball free near midcourt. He dove to the floor, grabbed the ball and, in one motion, heaved it blindly over his head toward teammate Skylar Mays, alone at the other end.
Impressive stuff from a freshman, even one considered among the nation’s top point guard.
Waters scored 21 points and set up the go-ahead basket with his spectacular no-look assist, helping LSU rally for a 77-75 victory in the Maui Invitational on Monday night.
“Tremont Waters just made some incredible plays,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
LSU (3-0) trailed by nine with about 5 minutes left, but chipped away at the lead to get within reach. Waters tied it with a step-back jumper and followed with his highlight-reel, steal-and-assist to Mays for a dunk and a 76-74 lead with 1:14 left.
Waters hit 1 of 2 free throws with 5.8 seconds after Michigan’s Charles Matthews went 1 for 2 at the line, giving the Wolverines (3-1) a final chance. Matthews, who had 28 points, got a shot from the wing off, but it came up short, sending LSU’s players racing off the bench in cheers.
Aaron Epps had 14 points for the Tigers, who move on to face No. 13 Notre Dame in Tuesday’s semifinals.
Moritz Wagner had 24 points for Michigan.
“Obviously, you could tell by the way we reacted, that was a huge win for us, huge,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “I’m so proud of our players. We turned the page on our program tonight.”
LSU and Michigan are in rebuilding years, the Tigers after Wade replaced Johnny Jones, the Wolverines after losing a trio of stars.
LSU opened the season with a pair of walkover victories against Alcorn State and Samford. Michigan had a pair of lopsided wins sandwiched around a tight victory over Central Michigan.
The Tigers struggled defensively a year ago under Jones, but were more active early in their Maui opener, harassing the Wolverines into difficult shots.
Wagner and Matthews were able to find some holes in LSU’s defense, helping the Wolverines to keep it close in the first half.
The Tigers shot well — 12 for 22 — but struggled holding onto the ball, turning it over 11 times. LSU led 31-29 at halftime on a buzzer-beating finger roll by Mays.
Once the tight first half ended, the second turned into an offensive show, with the Tigers and Wolverines trading made baskets nearly every trip.
LSU’s Brandon Sampson had a thunderous dunk over a defender and Waters followed with a power-spinning, how-did-he-do-that layup as he was falling to the floor.
Wagner and Matthews kept dropping in jump shots for Michigan to stay close.
LSU went up seven, but Michigan went on a 10-0 run to go up 58-53. Michigan tried to run away with it, but the Tigers kept hanging around, pulling within 73-72 on Epps’ 3-pointer with 2 minutes left to set up Waters’ final flourish.
“He’s a great player, great team,” Matthews said. “Felt like we had great defensive execution, so I give credit to them, but I feel like we did a good job.”
LSU showed a lot of determination for a young team, rallying late against a solid Michigan team when it could have folded.
The Wolverines had a trip to the semifinals in their grasp, but didn’t make enough plays down the stretch.
LSU faces No. 13 Notre Dame in Tuesday’s semifinals
Michigan plays Chaminade in the loser’s bracket on Tuesday.