Ben Simmons scored 36 points and added 14 boards and four assists as LSU picked up a critical win to kick off SEC play, knocking off Vanderbilt in Nashville, 90-82.
He was 10-for-15 from the floor and shot 19 free throws, numbers that mean just as much to the Tigers’ season as the win does. If there has been a knock on Simmons this year, it’s that he has a tendency to defer. He’s unselfish, which is unequivocally a good thing in a basketball player, particularly one that is as gifted of a passer as Simmons is.
The problem in this instance is that Simmons has been deferring to guys who are clearly not as talented as he is. That wasn’t the case on Saturday night, as he was assertive and aggressive offensively, attacking the rim and the backboards as opposed to allowing his first option to be trying to get his teammates involved. The minimum for him should be 15 FGAs with 10 trips to the charity stripe, because LSU is a better team when their best player is shooting the ball more.
Only twice this season has Simmons attempted more than 15 shots in a game. In the loss to N.C. State, he shot six FGs and five free throws. In the overtime loss against Houston, he took seven shots and five free throws. He took just eight shots in Tuesday’s loss to Wake Forest in Baton Rouge.
And here’s the other important thing to remember: this season is far from over for the Tigers. Yes, they’re 8-5 this season with a couple hideous losses and this win at Vandy — who could very well end up NIT-bound themselves — being the only thing resembling a good win on their résumé. But they are also 4-1 since Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor, both of whom start, have been back in the lineup.
That’s something the NCAA tournament selection committee undoubtedly pays attention to.
So while some had already left LSU for dead, the Tigers have some life left. And as long as Ben Simmons plays up to his ability — which is unparalleled in the college game — the NCAA tournament is anything but a pipe dream.