NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Ben Simmons used his Southeastern Conference debut to remind everybody why he was the league's preseason player of the year.
Simmons scored 36 points and grabbed 14 rebounds as the LSU Tigers beat Vanderbilt 90-82 Saturday night in the SEC opener for both teams. He scored 18 in each half, and he also had four assists to go with a steal and one block.
"I knew the bigs couldn't guard me," Simmons said.
At one point in the second half, LSU coach Johnny Jones let Simmons handle the ball to slow down the game when Vanderbilt went small.
"To do that your first night out in this type of environment here says a lot about him," Jones said. "But certainly not surprised about his play, and not a lot surprises me about him. I've been around him enough now."
Keith Hornsby added 23 points, and Craig Victor II added 11 as the Tigers (8-5) picked up their fourth victory in five games. Jones has yet to lose to Vanderbilt, improving to 5-0 even with this the third straight at Memorial Gym in this series.
Vanderbilt (8-5) came in leading the SEC in scoring defense, holding opponents to 61.8 points, and third nationally holding opponents to 35.8 percent shooting. With 7-foot-1 junior Luke Kornet still out with a torn MCL, the Commodores struggled to slow down Simmons.
Wade Baldwin IV led five Commodores in double figures with 17 points. Jeff Roberson added 13, Matthew Fisher-Davis 11 and Riley LaChance and Damian Jones each had 12.
Coach Kevin Stallings made it clear Kornet likely wouldn't have helped, not with what he called a lack of effort from his Commodores.
"Wade was the only guy who played the game the way it needed to be played to win," Stallings said.
The Tigers came in second in the SEC scoring an average of 83.8 points per game, while Vanderbilt leads the league and ranks third nationally holding opponents to 35.8 percent shooting. For the first 30 minutes, this looked to be headed for overtime just like last season when LSU pulled that win out. The teams swapped the lead 14 times with six ties.
Vanderbilt led 35-34 at halftime and last led 51-50 on a 3-pointer by Baldwin from the top of the key. Hornsby hit a 3 to put LSU ahead to stay with 13:21 remaining, and the Tigers built that lead to as much as nine until the final minutes. Vanderbilt got within four a couple times, the last on a driving layup by LaChance with 5:00 left.
Hornsby hit another 3, and Vanderbilt didn't get closer than five the rest of the way.
Simmons dominated. He scored 11 straight in the first half and 15 of 17 in keeping LSU close. Simmons scored over and over again with dunks, and he was 16 of 19 with all of LSU's attempts until Tim Quarterman split a pair of free throws with 2:01 left.