BATON ROUGE, La. — Tremont Waters scored 14 points and handed out 10 assists, and LSU closed out its regular season with a 78-57 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday.
Aaron Epps highlighted his 16-point game with a back-breaking 3 with 2:17 to go, and Brandon Sampson had his best game in a month with 16 points and three steals for LSU (17-13, 8-10 Southeastern Conference).
New Orleans native Lamar Peters scored 15 points and Quinndary Weatherspoon added 12 points for the Bulldogs (21-10, 9-9), who could have used a road victory in the league to solidify their credentials for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Instead, LSU won its sixth straight home game to take some momentum into next week's SEC Tournament in St. Louis, where the Tigers likely have to win out to get an NCAA berth.
Tigers senior Duop Reath scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds in his last game in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, where the crowd went crazy in the final minutes for fellow senior Reed Vial after the 6-foot-3 walk-on hit a 3.
The game closed out a brilliant regular season for Waters, the first SEC freshman since John Wall in 2010 to average 15 points and five assists in a season. He had already broken Ben Simmons's single-season assists record at LSU and his fourth 10-assist game gives him 177 this season.
Sampson, a 6-5 junior, hadn't scored more than seven and averaged 4.2 points during his previous six games. He hadn't eclipsed the 10-point mark since his 17 points in a loss at Florida on Feb. 7.
The 6-5 junior not only had one of his more productive games, but converted timely, momentum-turning plays. His offensive rebound and put-back while being fouled gave LSU a 55-47 lead with 10:01 to play. Less than two minutes later, Brandon Rachal's short floater at the end of the shot clock put LSU up by 10 again with 8:46 to go.
In the first half, Sampson's 3 ignited a 12-0 run that wound up putting the Tigers in the lead for good. Rachal added a dunk and Waters delighted the crowd with a driving scoop in the lane to finish off a give-and-go move that he initiated with a no-look, between-the-legs bounce pass to Reath, who then floated the ball back to LSU's imaginative point guard.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs appeared bound for the NCAA Tournament with three straight late-season victories over Mississppi, Texas A&M and South Carolina, but closed out the regular season with a disastrous final two games, starting with Tuesday's 21-point loss at home to Tennessee. The Bulldogs' hopes for containing LSU's explosive offense took a further hit when shot-blocking 6-11 freshman Abdul Ado was whistled for his fourth foul with 12:07 left. LSU regained a double-digit lead a few minutes later and pulled away.
LSU: While the Tigers have been inconsistent, particularly on the road, they've strung together a number of confidence-building performances at home and will have to hope to channel some of that quality in their upcoming neutral-site games. The Tigers also saw evidence of Rachal's potential to contribute. He had six points and five rebounds.
Mississippi State: Opens SEC Tournament play on Thursday.
LSU: Plays its SEC Tournament opener next week.