Why Tyrell Ward's emergence against Florida should give LSU basketball hope

Koki Riley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

BATON ROUGE - There wasn't much for LSU basketball fans to cheer about on Tuesday.

The Tigers (12-4, 1-3 SEC) turned the ball over 16 times, shot just 32.2% from the floor and failed to hit a 3-pointer in the second half of their 67-56 loss to Florida (9-7, 2-2) at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

"I think for us, to have opportunities to win games, we've got to find ways to eliminate self-inflicted wounds," coach Matt McMahon said.

But it wasn't all doom and gloom for LSU, despite the defeat putting the Tigers in a deep hole as they enter their toughest stretch of games this season against No. 4 Alabama, No. 22 Auburn, No. 5 Tennessee and No. 16 Arkansas.

The bright spot: Freshman forward Tyrell Ward, for the first time this season, stepped up and played important minutes.

"I thought he came in and gave us a lift there on the offensive end," McMahon said.

Entering the season, Ward was expected to be a major contributor for LSU. At 6-foot-6 and 185 pounds, Ward was the No. 34 player in the nation coming out of DeMatha High School in Maryland, according to 247Sports Composite. He was the highest-rated recruit in the Tigers' four-man class and had a path to playing time as a small forward.

But instead of playing Ward, McMahon has heavily relied on three-guard lineups while also slotting veteran forward Mwani Wilkinson ahead of him in the rotation. Before Tuesday, Ward had not played in the Tigers' prior three SEC matchups and played no more than 10 minutes in any contest during nonconference play.

But with Wilkinson and starting guard Cam Hayes both out with shoulder and leg injuries, respectively, it opened up minutes for Ward.

"I talk to Tyrell often," LSU forward Derek Fountain said. "I've (told) him a couple stories (of) when I was a freshman at Mississippi State. And I would just let him know like 'just stay prepared. You'll never know what happens. Somebody could get hurt, or, I mean, anything can happen.'

"Tyrell works out. He stays in the gym, he gets a lot of work. Really like every day. I probably see Tyrell workout probably two times a day. He's probably one of the hardest workers on this team."

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Ward didn't set the world on fire, but he made the most of his opportunities. In 16:37 on the floor, he drilled a pair of 3-point shots and was one of two Tigers with a positive +/- by the time the final whistle sounded.

But it wasn't the performance that should give LSU fans as much hope as the potential that he brings to LSU's offense.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the Tigers' attack is struggling in almost every facet. LSU shot just 29% from the floor in the second half against Florida and has turned the ball over 28 times in its last two games. It also got outscored 42-10 in the paint against Texas A&M on Saturday.

The Tigers' offense needs a shot in the arm, a sign of hope, a hero to save them. Whatever the right expression is, LSU needs something to help turn around its drowning offense. And just maybe, Ward can be the savior.

Because if he isn't and LSU can't turn things around, McMahon's first season will be at the bottom of the ocean sooner than expected.

Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser and the USA TODAY Sports South Region. Email him at and follow him on Twitter at @KokiRiley.