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The Basketball Vagabond: Texas Tech’s Chris Beard is thriving after returning to his roots

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To this day, when Chris Beard is asked about the best team that he’s ever coached, he doesn’t mention his current Texas Tech team, the one that is ranked No. 8 in the country and just six days removed from winning at Allen Fieldhouse.

He doesn’t mention his Little Rock team, either, the one that upset No. 5 seed Purdue in the 2016 NCAA tournament.

To hear him tell it, the best team that Beard ever coached was the South Carolina Warriors, an ABA expansion franchise, a team in a league where half court shots count as four points, you get a bonus point for baskets that come off of backcourt steals and players can’t foul out of games; a league that few people even realize still exists.

Six years and five jobs later, Beard has returned to Lubbock to lead a school that fired him, sending him to the depths of America’s pro basketball ranks, into poll position in the race to end Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12.



It was June 23rd, 2011, three months after Billy Gillispie replaced Pat Knight and ten years after Chris Beard had taken a job on staff with the Red Raiders, and for the first time in a decade, Beard was out of work.

After initially being retained by Gillispie, the university and Beard had decided to part ways. The timing could not have been worse. By late-June, most of the movement in the assistant coaching ranks has come to a close, particularly at the higher-end of the salary scale. Most of the college coaching jobs that Beard, who has three daughters that live in Texas, could have chased were filled.

And that’s assuming he could have gotten them in the first place. Industry sources told NBC Sports that the split between Beard and Gillispie was hardly amicable, and reports at the time stated that “heated altercations” between the two, including one that was “physically broken up” by Texas Tech’s Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt, led to Beard’s resignation.

Then there was the buyout.

Beard wouldn’t have seen any of that money if he took another college coaching job, and none of the openings he tried to chase down came with a salary large enough to make up that difference. Beard has kids that he needed to support. He was already staring at the paycut that comes with losing a position as the associate head coach of a Big 12 program. Passing up on that buyout money to take a spot as the third assistant with some random mid-major team didn’t make sense, not when he could have very well ended up looking for another job by the following Final Four.

“I had an opportunity to take a step back and reflect on what I wanted to do,” Beard told NBC Sports in an interview last week. “I’m not a guy that was going to go do TV or anything like that. I’m not good looking enough. But I knew I wanted to stay involved in basketball.”

That’s when Beard got word about an opportunity in Myrtle Beach.

Or maybe Tony Bennett, who spent time as both the General Manager and the Owner of the South Carolina Warriors, got word of Beard’s availability.

No one seems to remember exactly who called who first, but all parties agree on this: Purdue head coach Matt Painter was the conduit. Bennett was a former walk-on at Purdue, a grey shirt that ran on the scout team for the Boilermakers during the years when Painter was a scholarship player. Painter also happened to be an AAU teammate of Pat Knight, Beard’s former boss. The connection was made.

Beard – who went to high school outside Houston, was a student-assistant at Texas and spent his entire coaching career, outside of two one-year stops at Junior Colleges in Kansas and Oklahoma, in the the state of Texas – was off to South Carolina.

To take over a team that didn’t have an arena to play in.

Hell, when Beard got the job, you couldn’t even call the Warriors a team.

They didn’t actually have any players.


Chris Beard cuts down net after winning Sun Belt title with Little Rock (Stephen B. Thornton/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)

At the tender age of 44, Beard has already been a head coach with eight different teams. Prior to heading to Texas Tech the first time around, Beard was the head coach at Fort Scott CC and Seminole State CC, each for one season. He spent one year with the South Carolina Warriors before returning to Texas as the head coach at a newly-minted Division II program, McMurry University. After one season at McMurry, Beard was named head coach at Division II powerhouse Angelo State. He spent two seasons there before getting the head coaching gig with Little Rock. After winning a first round game in the NCAA tournament in his inaugural season in Arkansas, Beard was named head coach at UNLV, where he lasted precisely one week before taking over for Tubby Smith at Texas Tech.

It’s something that he’s taken heat for, and yet he claims that he doesn’t look for jobs. Beard told Sports Illustrated in 2016 that he doesn’t even have a résumé.

“We have success and people reach out,” Beard says. The truth is that Beard, who has Texas Tech in the top ten of the AP Poll in just his second season in charge, was coaching at a level that was beneath him all of those years, and when a better job – with better pay, better players and a better chance at winning – comes along, he took it. Most people in most professions would do no different.

And for Beard, the real point of pride is in how he left the previous school.

“Each time I’ve moved, one of my assistants has gotten the head coaching job,” Beard said. “Everybody benefited. I would like to think that if you talked to any of those jobs – South Carolina Warriors, McMurry, Angelo State, Little Rock – they would tell you the program is in better shape when I left than when I came in. I’m really proud of that.”

That leaves UNLV, where Beard signed a five-year deal only to leave for Texas Tech a week later.

“It’s something that I don’t enjoy talking about it,” he said, “but I’ll be consistent. The truth sets you free. The timing was terrible and I felt bad for the people there, but sometimes in life opportunities come and you’ve got to do the right thing.”

For Beard, the right thing was returning to Texas Tech. UNLV, at the time, has just two scholarship players left on the roster. Sources told NBC Sports that at the first team workout Beard had at UNLV, the only player that showed up was a walk-on from Las Vegas. He was staring at a long rebuild in a city that was a flight away from his daughters and in a conference a rung or two below the Big 12.

Texas Tech?

They were coming off of an NCAA tournament under Tubby.

And it was also Texas Tech.

“It’s like when Bear Bryant left Texas A&M for Alabama,” Beard said in his introductory news conference. “He said, ‘When momma calls, you’ve gotta go home.’ Texas Tech is my momma and I’m home.”


(John Weast/Getty Images)

The first thing that Beard did when he arrived in Myrtle Beach was to start building a roster, and he could not have picked a better time to do it.

Beard’s first foray into professional basketball happened to coincide with the NBA lockout.

“A lot of the players weren’t playing in the D-League,” Beard said. “They weren’t even going overseas because the whole basketball world froze for a little while.”

Beard and Bennett pounced. Instead of going through agents, they recruited the way they would to a college program. They wore out their contacts list, reaching out to anyone and everyone that may have a line on a player looking for a team.

It worked.

The Warriors’ roster was headlined by former high-major players. Former Kentucky center Perry Stevenson played for the Warriors, as did former Texas Tech point guard John Roberson. Marquise Gainous played for TCU. Brendan Knox played at Auburn. The Warriors also reeled in as much local talent as possible, adding former Charleston star Tony White Jr. to the roster as well as a handful of players from the local Division I program, Coastal Carolina, because the second step after building a roster was building a fanbase that actually cared.

Courtesy Paul Reynolds

That process started with making the games an event, not just a place to watch basketball. The program brought in a cheerleading squad. There was a band playing in the gym. It took a while to lock down a place to play their home games, but Beard eventually discovered the Carolina Forest Recreation Center.

It wasn’t exactly an arena, but it was nicer than a typical high school gym and could fit more than 1,000 people. Crowds hovered around that number as the season went on, in no small part a result of the way the ABA game is played.

The ABA understands what it is. It’s not the NBA. It’s a step below the G League, so instead of using standard professional basketball rules, they made changes to creating as thrilling a style of play as possible. Any shot made beyond half court counted as four points. Instead of a ten-second backcourt violation, teams only have seven seconds to get the ball across half court. Any turnover committed in the backcourt meant that the next shot taken by the team that forced the turnover would be worth an extra point – twos were worth three, threes were worth four and halfcourt shots were worth five. Throw in that players could not foul out of a game, and it was pretty easy to figure out the optimal way to play.

Imagine Press Virginia on steroids. Imagine VCU’s Havoc defense, only gambling more.

Throw in the fact that the Warriors were the most talented team in the league, and what you got was high-octane basketball with video game numbers: They broke 150 points seven times, including a season-high of 194.

The only issue was money.

There wasn’t a ton of it to go around. Beard had his buyout money to float him, and the players were treated better than they were for most teams in the league, but that didn’t change the fact that those ABA paychecks “weren’t very good,” Bennett said, adding that often those paychecks would show up late. “A lot of people make worse, but it wasn’t a lot.”

The team created a few side hustles to help ease the financial burden on their players. Players would be given tickets that they could sell, splitting the profits with ownership. The team cut deals with restaurants in the area, exchanging advertisements and publicity at the games for a postgame drink and appetizer vouchers for the players. The free housing in Myrtle Beach helped as well.

“We wanted them to feel like pros,” Bennett said.

Courtesy Paul Reynolds

That wasn’t always easy when the team would be forced to practice in random rec centers or high school gyms, or even on outdoor courts, if no other court space was available.

The ABA is not glamorous. “Off the court it was like I was living the Will Ferrell semi-pro life,” Beard said, and that was exactly what he needed.

“I’ve always been a pretty humble guy, I’d like to think that I’m not entitled or anything like that, I just love basketball. But that year really made me appreciate basketball even more. We would practice in rec centers. We would practice outside. We didn’t have a trainer. We just kind of bonded together.”

“The experience for him was really good because he had to do so many things he didn’t do before,” Bennett said. “It created a family environment. The players all lived in the same place. The team had Sunday meals together.”

And before long, they were selling out games. “The community in Myrtle Beach embraced the team,” Beard said. The Warriors would go undefeated until the championship series, where they were swept by a team from Jacksonville owned by Christian Laettner.

With that, Beard’s tenure in the professional ranks was over. He had a line on a Division II head coaching position back in Texas. Bennett sold the team to a group of investors in Myrtle Beach and within two years, the team no longer existed.


(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

For a college basketball coach, there is a risk in calling a job like Texas Tech your “dream job,” as Beard did at his introductory press conference in 2016, particularly for a coach with Beard’s reputation of job-hopping.

This is Beard’s 23rd season as a basketball coach, and outside of the ten years that he spent as an assistant at Texas Tech, he’s never been in one place for more than two seasons.

He was at UNLV for a week before leaving to take Texas Tech.

Your “dream job” is the one you don’t leave, and if Beard wins the Big 12 in his second season at Texas Tech, a school whose entire basketball history to date can be summed up with Darvin Ham broke a backboard and Bob Knight retired from there, what job would be unavailable to him?

Beard has built a reputation for being a coach that can rebuild quickly, and there’s a school in Louisville that will be in the market for someone that can provide a quick turnaround. Beard could get a $2 million-a-year raise and Louisville would still be spending less than half of what they did on Rick Pitino’s salary, and an offer like that would be awfully hard for anyone to say no to.

Which is why it’s silly for a coach to paint themselves into a corner. You never know what the future holds. Beard is smart when distancing himself from that dream job discussion.

“I’ve always felt that way with the job that I’ve had,” Beard said. “When I got the Fort Scott CC job, [Beard’s first head coaching gig], I was never more excited. I’ve always just felt that way.”

But Texas Tech might be the job that’s different. He’s spent time here, the only place where he has set down roots as a professional. His daughters are close, he’s back in Texas, and Texas just so happens to be the state that is home to Whataburger.

It’s the little things that matter.

Beard is also a dreamer with a chip on his shoulder, and he recruits dreamers with chips on their shoulder. He believes that he can win a national championship at Texas Tech and he recruits players that do the same, players that have a desire to prove to everyone that said they weren’t talented enough to play at Kansas that they can win at Kansas.

At the same time, it’s not glitz and glamour of high major basketball that Beard is addicted to.

It is the competition. It is the satisfaction that comes with victory. It is the moments that he experiences with his team.

After last week’s win in Lawrence, Beard got onto the Texas Tech bus and sat next to his assistant, Max Lefevre, who has been a member of Beard’s staff since 2013, when Beard was at Angelo State.

“No disrespect to Kansas,” Beard said, “this is what it felt like when we beat Tarleton State.”

“My girlfriend now is a high school volleyball coach,” Beard told me, “and I tell her that her season is just the same as mine. It’s all relative. When she has a big game it’s just like if we’re paying Texas or Baylor. When you’re a competitor and you’re in competition, the level doesn’t matter.”

“The moment does.”

Wednesday’s Things to Know: Grant Williams leads No. 1 Tennessee to OT win; No. 25 LSU, Purdue earn solid wins

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Wednesday didn’t have a lot of major college basketball action, but we still saw a historic performance from a Player of the Year candidate while the No. 1 team nearly lost in overtime. The SEC’s other unbeaten team was also in action while the Big Ten saw a road win with some implications for later this week.

Here are three things to know.

Grant Williams’ huge game saves No. 1 Tennessee from upset of Vanderbilt

The story of Wednesday night in college basketball is undoubtedly Tennessee junior forward Grant Williams. The junior forward and reigning SEC Player of the Year had his signature performance of the season with 43 points and a jaw-dropping 23-for-23 from the free-throw line to lead the Volunteers to an overtime win over in-state rival Vanderbilt.

Getting the basketball world buzzing, Williams dominated the game down the stretch as he willed Tennessee back into a game in which Vanderbilt was hitting a lot of timely shots.

The No. 1 team in the country will stay that way for at least another game thanks to one of the best individual performances we’ll see in college hoops this season. Williams might have just firmly put his name on the national map for the rest of the season as his star power continues to grow.

No. 25 LSU stays unbeaten in SEC with win over Georgia

The SEC’s other unbeaten team, LSU, also stayed that way on Wednesday night as the Tigers put together a solid home win over Georgia.

Sophomore guard Tremont Waters put together a season-high 26 points, four assists, four steals and no turnovers to lead a balanced LSU offensive attack that saw four players in double-figures.

Tennessee, Kentucky and Auburn received a lot of the early-season attention from the SEC, but the Tigers have quietly put together an eight-game winning streak while remaining undefeated in the SEC.

A talented young team with a very good point guard and talented weapons around him, LSU has a manageable schedule for the rest of January before things start to get more difficult during February. We’ll see if the Tigers can keep the winning streak going before facing a big pack of the league’s better teams in a row.

 

Purdue puts together quality road win at Ohio State

In the country’s deepest conference, Purdue earned a very good road win in Columbus on Wednesday night. Winners of four consecutive games and seven of their last eight, the Boilermakers are playing some of their best basketball of the season recently in the Big Ten. Carsen Edwards went for 27 points and the Boilermakers fouled out Kaleb Wesson on a night in which they led most of the time.

At 6-2 in league play, Purdue is a half game behind third-place Maryland — a team the Boilermakers already beat earlier this season. With conference losses only to leaders Michigan State and Michigan, Purdue is also taking care of the other teams in the league while creating some potential separation for a lead pack.

A game against Michigan State looms later this week and that should really give us a clear picture of where things stand in the conference pecking order. Home games on national television like Purdue has with this game against  the Spartans are a huge chance to make a move.

Howard scores 23 as No. 12 Marquette holds off DePaul 79-69

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MILWAUKEE — Markus Howard found ways to score when Marquette needed it most.

Howard had 13 of his 23 points — including 11 free throws — in the final six minutes and Sam Hauser added 19 as the 12th-ranked Golden Eagles held off DePaul 79-69 on Wednesday night to remain unbeaten at home.

“He’s kept me up since Saturday’s game every night just trying to figure out how best to keep him off balance,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said of Howard. “I thought we did to a stretch, but again, his intellect came into play and he drew fouls, which as a 90 percent free throw shooter, he went 15 for 15, which is as admirable a talent as there is to speak of.”

DePaul, which trailed by 14 in the first half, pulled to 56-52 on Max Strus’ layup with 7:31 remaining.

Howard then scored five consecutive points to trigger an 11-point run. Marquette extended the lead to 67-56 on two free throws by Hauser with 3:47 left. The Golden Eagles (17-3, 6-1 Big East) scored 17 of their final 23 points from the free throw line to improve to 14-0 at the new Fiserv Forum.

Howard, who entered first in the Big East and fifth in the nation in scoring at 24.4 points per game, was 4 of 10 from the field — including 1 for 3 in the second half. He went 0 for 2 from 3-point range but made all 15 free throw attempts. The star guard had nine assists and eight turnovers.

“We do need to be more balanced offensively and I thought we were tonight,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “I really thought it started with Markus’ passing to start the game. He really, I thought, made a concerted effort in the beginning of the game to share the ball. When he does that, it becomes contagious.”

Theo John scored a career-high 16 points to go with 10 rebounds and six blocks for Marquette. Joey Hauser had 14 points.

“They’re anything but a one-man group,” Leitao said. “They’re veteran, they’ve been around. Joey’s the only freshman that joined the lineup, but he’s very talented, so that’s why he fits in well. They’re seasoned, they know who they are. They’ve gotten tremendously improved on the defensive end, and then they have a will.”

Paul Reed had 18 points and Femi Olujobi added 15 for the Blue Demons (11-7, 3-4).

DePaul scored the first eight points of the second half, pulling to 40-35 on Reed’s driving layup. John converted a three-point play at 16:20 for Marquette’s first points after halftime.

Marquette finished the first half with a 20-6 run for a 40-27 lead at the break. The Blue Demons went more than 5 1/2 minutes without a field goal until Lyrik Schreiner’s 3-pointer with 30 seconds left made it 38-27.

DePaul hit seven of its first 13 shots but went 4 for 17 the rest of the half.

The Golden Eagles were sluggish early, making just six of their first 21 shots. The score was tied at 18 with 6:32 left in the half as Marquette had seven turnovers to just six field goals.

“I thought we got contributions across the board from a number of guys, which we knew we needed, because DePaul is playing very well,” Wojciechowski said. “They’re a much-improved basketball team and program. Our guys and our staff were very concerned about this game because of how well they’re playing.”

BIG PICTURE

DePaul: After a three-game skid, the Blue Demons had won three of four coming in, including a victory at St. John’s and two wins over Seton Hall. DePaul needs to win just four more games for its first winning regular season since 2006-07.

Marquette: Needs to continue showing improvement on the road. After dropping their first two road games, along with an NIT Season Tip-Off loss to Kansas, the Golden Eagles have posted a pair of narrow road victories, 106-104 in overtime at Creighton and 74-71 at Georgetown. Marquette’s next two games are on the road at Xavier and Butler.

A RARE ZERO

In games when Howard has played at least 10 minutes, this was just the sixth time in his career he did not make a 3-pointer. He entered with 72 in 164 attempts, both team highs.

UP NEXT

DePaul is at Providence on Sunday.

Marquette is at Xavier on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 17 Houston hits 16 3-pointers in 94-50 win over ECU

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HOUSTON — Houston had one of its best offensive nights of the season. Coach Kelvin Sampson was more impressed with his team’s intensity and defense.

Armoni Brooks scored 17 points, Corey Davis Jr. added 12 and No. 17 Houston hit 16 3-pointers while beating East Carolina 94-50 on Wednesday.

Brooks and Davis combined to hit nine 3-pointers while the Cougars (19-1, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) finished 16 of 24 from behind the arc.

“We shot the ball well tonight, but look at who was shooting them,” Sampson said. “Armoni Brooks is an outstanding shooter. Corey is an outstanding shooter. I thought Corey and Armoni and (Galen Robinson Jr.’s) defense and attention to detail tonight was outstanding.”

The Cougars entered the game second in the nation in field goal percentage defense, third in 3-point field goal percentage defense and eighth in scoring defense. They held the Pirates to 32 percent shooting and 2 of 22 on 3-pointers.

“We are a good defensive team,” Sampson said.

Nate Hinton had 13 points, Cedrick Alley scored 12 and Fabian White Jr. had 11.

Houston, which won its fourth straight, shot 52 percent from the field while extending its home winning streak to 30 games.

“We are all extremely confident in one another,” Brooks said.

Seth Leday had 12 points and Isaac Fleming added 11 for ECU (8-10, 1-5). Jayden Gardner, who came into the game leading the American in scoring with 19.8 points per game, finished with eight points for the Pirates. ECU has lost four straight.

“They’re hard to beat when they don’t shoot the ball well, and when they shoot it like that, it’s just a double-edged sword,” ECU coach Joe Dooley said.

After Fleming’s layup with 8 1/2 minutes left cut Houston’s lead to 21-15, the Cougars went on a 26-9 run over the next eight minutes to take a 47-24 lead on Robinson’s 3-pointer with 1 1/2 minutes left in the half. Houston made six straight 3-pointers during the run.

The Cougars led 49-26 at the half.

BIG PICTURE

East Carolina: The Pirates struggled to find scoring as Houston did well defending Gardner. The Pirates took care of the ball, committing 10 turnovers and held a 24-18 advantage in points in the paint. “I thought they did a good job (guarding Gardner),” Dooley said. “I thought they pressured us, and they also gapped us. It shortens the court when you don’t make any shots, and we didn’t make any three-point shots.”

Houston: The Cougars never trailed. They opened 2 of 9 from the field before catching fire and finishing the first half 15 of 22. Houston played well on both ends and was able to keep ECU off the glass, holding a 47-25 advantage. The Cougars continued to pass the ball well, finishing with 21 assists on 29 made field goals.

CLIMBING THE CHARTS

Robinson surpassed 500 assists for his career at Houston, becoming the sixth Cougar to accomplish the feat. Robinson finished with eight.

OLAJUWON IN ATTENDANCE

NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, who played a key role in Houston’s run of three straight NCAA Final Four appearances from 1982-84, sat courtside.

TIMEOUT PLEASE

ECU called three timeouts in the first 13 minutes.. ECU used its final timeout two minutes into the second half.

UP NEXT

East Carolina: Hosts South Florida on Saturday.

Houston: Travels to Tulsa on Sunday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Waters leads No. 25 LSU past Georgia 92-82 for 8th straight

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BATON ROUGE, La. — A little more than a month ago, LSU point guard Tremont Waters went to the bench for two games.

Since returning to the starting lineup in the Tigers’ final non-conference game, Waters has been a different player. He delivered his best game of the season Wednesday night as No. 25 LSU beat Georgia 92-82 to remain unbeaten in Southeastern Conference play.

Waters scored a season-high 26 points, making nine of his 14 field goal attempts and seven of 11 free throws. In addition, he had four assists and four steals with no turnovers in 32 minutes to help the Tigers win their eighth straight overall.

“I was just playing basketball,” Waters said. “My teammates and coaching staff told me to just keep playing and let the game come to me. That is what I did. It was not our best game. Going into the game, things were a little shaky. We were able to pull it out. We have to just keep building and learn from it.”

Waters, averaging 17.5 points and 7.8 assists over the last six games, had a hand in 13 straight points by the Tigers late. He scored 10 points and had an assist that led to a three-point play by Kavell Bigby-Williams as LSU extended a seven-point lead to 12 with 45 seconds to play.

Skylar Mays matched his season best for the Tigers (15-3, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) with 20 points. Naz Reid had 15 and Ja’vonte Smart added 10.

“Tre was great and Sky was great in the first half,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “They bailed us out with their offense. We were able to score at will against their matchup (zone) and their man. We scored 92 points and only turned it over eight times. Our defense looked like it did at the beginning of the year.”

Rayshaun Hammonds paced Georgia (9-9, 1-5) with 18 points. Nicolas Claxton had 15, Derek Ogbeide added 14 and Jordan Harris scored 10.

The Bulldogs made 54 percent of their field goal attempts (30 of 56), including 47 percent on 3-pointers (8 of 17).

“LSU is really good,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said. “They are extremely talented and (Wade) has done a fantastic job of getting a bunch of young guys to understand what it takes to win, and that is to be so good on the glass. Also, when you play LSU, it starts with Tremont and his ability to pass.”

A 14-0 run early in the first half enabled LSU to take control. Trailing 13-8, the Tigers got two baskets, one a 3-pointer, from Waters to tie the score. Smart’s 3-pointer put LSU in front for good at 16-13.

Marlon Taylor made two foul shots and Smart knocked down a short jumper. A dunk by Taylor gave the Tigers a 22-13 lead with 12:07 left before halftime. Georgia got no closer than five the rest of the half. Mays scored 12 points in the last eight minutes as LSU took a 48-36 lead into halftime.

The Bulldogs cut their deficit to 50-44 less than two minutes into the second half. Waters and Reid made baskets to give the Tigers a double-digit lead. Georgia trailed by at least eight the remainder of the game.

ON A ROLL

LSU has won 18 straight home games — tying its second-longest streak in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. The arena record is 23 in a row. LSU has also won eight consecutive games overall for the first time since the 2014-15 season, and five straight SEC games for the first time since a 10-game conference winning streak in 2008-09.

STRONG BACKCOURT

Georgia had no answer for LSU’s starting backcourt of Waters and Mays, who shot a combined 14 of 23 from the field with six assists and no turnovers. Mays was 8 of 8 at the foul line.

LEAKY DEFENSE

In all three of its SEC losses on the road, Georgia has allowed at least 90 points. Tennessee defeated the Bulldogs 96-50 and Auburn handed them a 93-78 defeat. LSU made 50 percent of its field goal attempts (33 of 66). The Vols shot slightly higher than 50 percent from the field and Auburn made exactly 50 percent. Georgia allowed LSU to score 44 points in the paint and 21 at the foul line.

BIG PICTURE

LSU: The Tigers have won their first five SEC games for just the third time in the past 50 seasons. On the other two occasions, LSU won the conference championship and advanced to the Final Four. The Tigers won their first 17 conference games in 1981 and their first seven in 2006.

Georgia: The Bulldogs dropped their fourth consecutive game. All five of Georgia’s SEC defeats have been by double digits.

UP NEXT

LSU: The Tigers begin a two-game road swing at Missouri on Saturday.

Georgia: The Bulldogs host Texas in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Grant Williams puts up monster game in No. 1 Tennessee’s overtime win over Vanderbilt

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Tennessee needed everything they could get from junior forward Grant Williams on Wednesday night as the No. 1 Volunteers outlasted in-state rival Vanderbilt with an 88-83 overtime SEC road win.

Williams, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, played as if the National Player of the Year was more suitable to his needs this season as his dominant 43-point performance had the basketball world buzzing. Finishing 23-for-23 from the free-throw line, Williams essentially gutted Tennessee through a night in which a natural second scorer didn’t easily step up while Vanderbilt repeatedly made big shots with the shot clock winding down.

Not only did Williams lead Tennessee to victory on Wednesday night, it was the surgical way in which he went about torching Vanderbilt’s defense. Once Commodore junior big man Yanni Wetzell fouled out with a little over five minutes left, Williams went to work with a number of quick and decisive scoring moves. Spins into jumpers and runners balanced with post touches through contact that were all seamlessly converted.

And once Williams got to the line, he finished nearly every attempt completely clean — announcers marveling when he even drew iron. It’s only the second time in the history of college basketball that a player was at least 23-for-23 from the foul line.

Although many have placed Duke freshman Zion Williamson as the leader for Player of the Year at this point in the season, Williams is putting up huge numbers for the current No. 1 team in America. On a night when normal running mate Admiral Schofield struggled to only six points, Tennessee was still able to win because Williams got them there.

This is the type of signature performance that people are going to associate with Williams for a long time as his huge junior season continues.