Early in the second half of their eventual 69-67 win against the No. 6-seed Maryland Terrapins on Saturday, the No. 3-seed LSU Tigers just happened to hit on a total of 44 points and LSU was ready for it.
Freshman forward Emmitt Williams held up four fingers on each of his hands. Tiger fans in Jacksonville chanted, “44,” from the stands at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. When LSU huddled up with 44 points, players did the same.
It’s all a tribute to Wayde Sims, who wore No. 44 before he was shot and killed in the fall, just hours before the Tigers began their first official practice of the season.
“He’s always with us,” guard Tremont Waters said on CBS after making the game-winning shot against Maryland in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. “Obviously, we lost a brother, but we understand that he’s always with us. ... We just knew that we had to get this one for him.”
LSU has spent much of the season honoring Sims, who started 10 games as a sophomore for the Tigers last season. LSU wears “44” patches on its jerseys. Guard Skyler Mays writes Sims’ name and death date on his shoes. No. 3-seed LSU has left Sims’ locker in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, untouched all year.
Sims was a Baton Rouge native and the son of a Tigers legend. Wayne Sims, the late forward’s father, is one of only nine players in program history to play in the NCAA Tourney four times.
LSU’s run to the Sweet 16 has been mired in controversy because of coach Will Wade’s involvement in an FBI investigation, but the players have spent all year honoring a teammate’s legacy. The Tigers will try to win another one for Sims against the No. 2-seed Michigan State Spartans on Thursday in Washington.