Sidelines with John Clay

LSU basketball’s Ben Simmons quickly living up to the hype

LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) drives to the basket as South Alabama forward Don MuepoKelly (5) defends in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Baton Rouge, La., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. LSU won 78-66.
LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) drives to the basket as South Alabama forward Don MuepoKelly (5) defends in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Baton Rouge, La., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. LSU won 78-66. The Associated Press

Depending on the particular recruiting guru you subscribe to, either LSU’s Ben Simmons or Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere was considered numero uno when it came to prep prospects entering their rookie seasons in college basketball.

While the silky smooth Labissiere has had his moments, and will get better, Simmons has popped right out of the starting gate.

The 6-foot-10 Australian recorded his second double-double in three games on Thursday night, scoring 26 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in LSU’s 78-66 win over South Alabama in Baton Rouge as the 23rd-ranked Tigers improved to 3-0 on the young season.

Simmons made nine of his 14 shots to go along with his three assists. He also did not commit a turnover during his 32 minutes on the floor. In fact, Simmons has not turned the ball over in his last two games, a span of 63 minutes without giving up the ball.

In three games, Simmons is averaging 18.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. He’s also shooting 63.2 percent from the floor. After registering a double-double in his collegiate debut with 11 points and 13 rebounds against McNeese State, Simmons put up 22 points with nine rebounds and six assists in LSU’s win over Kennesaw State.

“My focus was just being aggressive, being assertive and sticking to it the whole game,” Simmons said Thursday, according to The Advocate in Baton Rouge. “Once I started driving, I stuck to it.”

Thursday night, Simmons got some help from LSU’s other heralded freshman. Antonio Blakeney scored a career-high 22 points, including 12 in the second half. Blakeney hit seven of 11 shots, including four-of-eight from three-point range.

There was one piece of bad news for the Tigers. Center Elbert Robinson, who scored a career-high 10 points, injured his left ankle and will be examined Friday as LSU prepares for next week’s trip to Brooklyn.

LSU will play Marquette on Monday night at the Barclays Center. Johnny Jones’ team then will play either Arizona State or North Carolina State in the Legends Classic. Iowa ran its record to 3-0 by pounding Marquette 89-61 in Milwaukee on Thursday night. Marquette dropped to 1-2.

Remember, Kentucky travels to LSU on Jan. 5. The Tigers come to Rupp Arena for the regular-season finale on March 5.

As for the rest of the SEC, No. 17 Vanderbilt held off Stony Brook 79-72 in overtime on Thursday. George Mason knocked off Ole Miss 68-62. Miami rolled over Mississippi State 105-79 in Puerto Rico. Tennessee beat Marshall 84-74. Texas A&M whipped Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 95-70.

Rivals Top 10 Class of 2015 prospects

  • 1. Skal Labissiere, Kentucky
  • 2. Ben Simmons, LSU
  • 3. Jaylen Brown, California
  • 4. Brandon Ingram, Duke
  • 5. Cheick Diallo, Kansas
  • 6. Diamond Stone, Maryland
  • 7. Ivan Rabb, California
  • 8. Malik Newman, Mississippi State
  • 9. Jamal Murray, Kentucky
  • 10. Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky
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