By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
LSU didn’t get many stops in the second half of Saturday’s 88-80 win over Texas Southern,
But when it mattered, the Tigers (7-2) came up with the defensive effort required for victory, closing the game on an 8-1 run and sinking all six free throws attempts in the final minute to seal the win.
Duop Reath led five LSU players in double figures, scoring 21 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. His partner inside Craig Victor posted a double-double, scoring 14 points and snagging 10 rebounds.
After just two first half points and rebounds, Reath exploded for 19 and 6 in the final 20 minutes — both exceeding his season averages.
“We challenged him at halftime,” said head coach Johnny Jones. “We knew he had more to offer us. In the second half, our guys gave him touches, and he delivered for us.”
“I just had to help my team push though for the win,” Reath added. “Coaches, players got on me, telling me to push through and stay focused, don’t worry about the first half.”
LSU led by just a point with less than a minute to play when Antonio Blakeney, who scored 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting, sunk a pair of free throws for an 82-79 lead. He then forced Zach Lofton (18 points) into a miss. Reath cleaned it up and sunk both free throws, and Jalyn Patterson added two more freebies and a late layup for four of his 12 points and the win.
The Tigers entered the game 339th in free throw shooting, making just 60.9 percent from the charity stripe, but finished the game 12-of-15 (80 percent), making their last seven attempts.
“Those guys went up to the line where they needed to be poised,” said Jones. It was great to see them step up to the line and knock them down. ”
Zach Lofton and Demontrae Jefferson both scored 18 points for Texas Southern (4-7), and Derrick Griffin, a former Miami football signee as a wide receiver, scored 13 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.
The game was a bit of a flipped script for LSU, which has made a habit of starting games slow and finishing strong in the second half. On Saturday, the Tigers shot out of the gates for a 44-34 halftime lead. LSU hit its first five attempts from deep and finished the half 6-of-10 from beyond the arc. Brandon Sampson, who finished with 10 points, hit a fadeaway from the corner at the buzzer, the last of 16 field goals the Tigers made on 31 attempts. That 60 percent mark from deep and their 51.6 percent shooting from the floor in the first 20 minutes were well above their season averages of 29 percent and 41 percent, respectively.
Blakeney led the charge, scoring 11 of his 16 points before the break, and Kieran Hayward added five off the bench, part of 22 points from the Tigers’ subs.
The Tigers extended their lead to 11 after the break on a pair of early Reath dunks, but an 8-0 run keyed by back-to-back dunks from Marvin Jones and Griffin trimmed the TSU deficit to just three. Jefferson quickly heated up to put Texas Southern up — his jumper and a Robinson 3 gave the visitors a 62-57 lead with 10 minutes to play. The 5-foot-7 freshman had 17 points in the final 20 minutes. Blakeney took the blame on behalf of LSU’s perimeter players for the slack defensive effort in the second half.
“It starated with the guards,” he said. “They were trying to drive us, getting into the paint making bigs help, kicking it out. We’ve got to contain dribble penetration better.”
Griffin, too, was key in Texas Southern’s scoring. He grabbed five of his eight offensive rebounds in the second half, helping generate 17 second chance points to keep the visiting Tigers close.
“Knowing he leads the nation in offensive rebounding, you’ve got to put a body on him,” said Jones. “It’s attention to detail, urgency, toughness — things we’ve got to play with night in, night out.”
But Hayward and the bench again gave LSU a shot in the arm. The freshman’s only three of the second half pulled LSU within two, and his assist to Reath for a dunk gave the hosts a 69-68 lead with seven minutes left. Reath’s jumper with 6:37 left gave LSU a lead it wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way — in part, because LSU’s defense buckled down, holding the guests to one field goal over the last 5:04. That credit, according to Jones and Blakeney, went to Hayward for injecting energy on both ends of the floor.
“He changed the game,” Blakeney said of Hayward. “They were getting to the rim. My guy beat me a couple of times, and he got in for me and stopped him a few plays in a row. He went in and showed us how we’re supposed to play.”
“I was just tyring to foucs on my defense to get me started, trying to have that defense first menality,” Hayward said. “That really helps my offense, and when I get an open shot, i just try to knock it down.”
LSU returns to action Monday against Charleston. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. from the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.