Baton Rouge, La. -- The LSU Tigers claimed the SEC regular season title outright on Saturday night after their 80-59 win over Vanderbilt. The Tigers got the win in convincing fashion, leading by as many as 30 points in the second half, and they did so without their head coach and two of their top players. Amidst the recruiting violation allegations, Head Coach Will Wade was suspended indefinitely and freshman guard Javonte Smart was sitting out, while freshman forward Naz Reid was out because of an injury.
"[Wade] was there in spirit obviously," said LSU guard Tremont Waters on Wade not being with the team. "I'm pretty sure-- like 101%-- that he watched the game and I'm pretty sure when we messed-up he was yelling at the TV or throwing stuff at the TV. We know that he's had our back since day one and obviously he's still there for us but he just wasn't able to experience it in the moment with us."
In Wade's absence, assistant coach turned interim head coach, Tony Benford, led the Tigers on their senior night.
"I had a chance to talk to [Wade] and he said, 'Hey, just get the guys ready and you guys go win the championship," Benford said. "It's a difficult time for everybody. But the main focus has got to be on the kids-- making sure they continue to focus and continue to grow and have success. I thought we came out and played together tonight and just really proud of the way they stuck together tonight."
The sell-out crowd at the Maravich Center was lively to say the least, with chants the entire game to "Free Will Wade," and "Free Javonte" and signs that echoed the same phrases. LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva was greeted with resounding boos from the crowd when he entered the arena and walked to his seat.
"LSU has some of the best fans that I've ever been around," Benford said. "It's the best fans in the country and they're just passionate about all their sports. I thought that they were being supportive of this group. They've done a great job of supporting this team."
Two stand-out players off the bench for LSU were Darius Days and Marshall Graves, who combined for 27 points and a 9-14 shooting performance from the beyond the arc. They were two of LSU's six players who finished in double figures. Tremont Waters added 14 points and 8 assists.
With their first regular season conference championship since 2009, the Tigers (26-5, 16-2 SEC) have also clinched the top seed in the SEC Tournament, meaning they have a double-bye. Their first game will be Friday, March 15 in the quarterfinals at noon. The SEC Tournament will be held in Nashville, Tennessee at Bridgestone Arena.