Will Baker scored 18 points and had seven rebounds to help LSU hold off Southeastern Louisiana 73-66 on Friday night.
LSU (5-3) had four players score in double-figures – Baker, Jordan Wright (16 points), Mike Williams III (15 points) and Tyrell Ward (11 points). The Tigers, though, did not score a field goal in the final 6:56 of play, and had to rely on free throws down the stretch after Southeastern cut an early second-half 15-point LSU lead down to two points, 65-63, with 2:19 left to play in the game.
Nick Caldwell led SLU with 18 points. Roge Mcfarlane and Rosco Eastmond added 12 and 10 points, respectively, for Southeastern (2-6).
“I’m proud of our players finding a way to win,” LSU coach Matt McMahon said.
“I thank Coach (David) Kiefer and Southeastern. They have a fantastic team and they play really hard. Just when you think you’ve seen it all in a basketball game, you see something new down the stretch. The 15-point lead turned to three. I’m proud of our players getting their composure back together and finding a way to win.
“Availability wise, Daimion Collins is still out with the injured shoulder he suffered in the North Florida game. For Jalen Cook we’re still waiting. He meets all the criteria and we’re certainly hoping for good news on his appeal. I don’t know what the holdup is. Trae Hannibal dislocated a finger against North Florida. He tried to play through it a little bit tonight, but he was limited and that’s why he was unable to play extended minutes. With all of that said, we’re thankful to get a win against a good basketball team and now we have a great opportunity to get better this week and finish strong with final exams. We’ll be able to reevaluate where we are and focus on how to get better as a team,” McMahon said.
LSU led Southeastern by 12 points, 64-52, with 4:39 left in the game after Ward hit a free throw. But then the Tigers were charged with consecutive flagrant fouls and immediately committed another foul on a 3-point attempt.
SLU’s Carlos Paez ended up hitting seven consecutive free throws in a span of 12 seconds and the Lions pulled within five points of LSU at 64-59.
In the first half, the game was tied eight times and there were four lead changes before Baker followed a three-point play with a 3-pointer to give LSU a 26-22 lead with 8:45 left before halftime and the Tigers never trailed again. Baker made 5 of 8 shots with a 3-pointer and 7 of 9 free throws for the Tigers.
Southeastern, which trailed 39-32 at halftime, battled to within 65-63 on two free throws from Nick Caldwell to cap an 11-1 run with 2:19 left to play. Caldwell missed a go-ahead 3-pointer after an LSU turnover and Baker and Williams III combined for four straight free throws and a two-score lead with 53 seconds remaining. Caldwell buried his next 3-pointer, but Jordan Wright made four free throws in the final 26 seconds to seal the win.
Wright, who had started every game this season, was replaced in by Mwani Wilkinson for the start Friday night, but the graduate transfer from Vanderbilt came off the bench to sink three 3-pointers and added four rebounds and three steals for the Tigers.
“The lineup had nothing to do with demotion and promotion, we just needed some change,” McMahon said.
“I thought Tyrell (Ward) got us off to a great start shooting the basketball. We did not perform well defensively in the first four minutes of the game. I thought we improved there in the last 16 minutes of the first half. I think we held them to 16 points in the final 16 minutes. I thought Jordan (Wright) responded well. He hit some big free throws and knocked down some big shots for us. He had a big rebound late in the game. Hunter Dean was really good defensively and on the glass. Their big fellow (Brody Rowbury) presented a match-up problem in there. He takes up space and is very skilled in the post. I thought Hunter did a nice job defensively and he had a really nice finish on one of his post ups.”
Williams, LSU’s freshman point guard, played his most complete game so far at LSU and said he ignited his own confidence with an early dunk. In addition to his career-high 15 points, Williams had four rebounds and four assists while committing only one turnover.
BOOT 🆙 pic.twitter.com/jNlCoBGTqZ— LSU Basketball (@LSUBasketball) December 2, 2023
“I’ve never seen anything like that down the stretch,” McMahon said.
“Thankful we were able to keep our composure and do enough to finish the game. But I did think there were some, a lot of good things done today. Mike Williams was just terrific at the point, running the team with four assists, just one turnover, 15 points. He was aggressive offensively and I thought really good on the defensive side of the ball. You know, really admire Will Baker’s toughness. He’s been sick as a dog all week. And he just battled through not only today, but in two challenging practices over the last couple days. And then I thought, Jordan Wright was a lot more efficient offensively, did a lot of good things for us tonight,” he said.
SLU coach David Kiefer said he thought his team approached the game with the right mentality, a marked improvement over its last couple of games.
“I thought going into the game we had the right mentality. We’re coming off a couple of poor loses,” Kiefer said.
“I thought our team didn’t execute and didn’t have the energy or toughness that we should have had in those games. We’re an older-led team and I thought going into this game our mind was right, our approach was right, and our effort was right. I thought we could have executed a little better down the stretch. I’m proud of how we bounced back after a couple of tough loses.”
LSU will not play again until Dec. 9 when the Tigers host Kansas State at 1:30 p.m. in the PMAC.