Flau’jae Johnson, Angel Reese, Hailey Van Lith and No. 3 seed LSU cut off the snake’s head and roll in second half to Sweet 16

Flau'jae Johnson
Flau'jae Johnson scored 21 points and ignited LSU to a huge second half, but Johnson credited Hailey Van Lith with cutting off the head of the snake, Savanna Wheeler, Middle Tennessee's great point guard to keep the Tigers alive and thriving and going back to the Sweet 16. Photo by Jonathan Mailhes

No. 3 LSU advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year with a second half surge that propelled a 83-56 win over No. 11 Middle Tennessee State in the PMAC on Sunday.

“I didn’t want to let my team down,” Angel Reese said. “I didn’t want this to be my last game being here in the PMAC. So I did whatever it takes to win. And me and Coach have that kind of relationship where she can get on me and talk to me, like, I need you, and give me that encouragement that I need.”

The Tigers trailed four going into the half, but turned it up in the second half. Hailey Van Lith’s defense against Savannah Wheeler helped turn the energy in LSU’s favor. The Tigers limited the Blue Raiders to two made threes in the second half after they made six in the first. LSU also tallied six steals in the second half. LSU also got MTSU in foul trouble as the Blue Raiders had three players foul out and another three that committed four fouls.

“I told Hailey we have to cut the head off the snake, and she really took that challenge on because their point guard (Savannah Wheeler), she’s little, but she’s mighty, and she makes things happen for them, and she breaks down defenses,” Flau’Jae Johnson said. “So Hailey gave us the opportunity to be able to get in some passing lanes, for the bigs to be able to work their mojo. That’s all Hailey Van Lith right there. “

“That child worked her rear-end off in the second half defensively,” Coach Kim Mulkey, who is advancing to her 17th Sweet 16, said of Van Lith. “As Flau’Jae said, she set the tone for us to pick our energy up on the defensive end.”

For the 16th time in program history, LSU is advancing to the Sweet 16. The Tigers in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year; it’s the first time LSU has advanced to the Sweet 16 in consecutive years since 2007 and 2008, the final two years of when LSU reached five consecutive Final Fours.

“I couldn’t hear at one point at PMAC,” Johnson said of the announced crowd of 12,632. “I didn’t hear the play calls. I couldn’t hear what was going on. It was so much fun. I love playing here at LSU and everything going on. It was so much fun. Now to be able to advance in my second year here, it’s just amazing. I wish we could take this crowd and bring it everywhere we go, but I know they’re going to come to Albany, and I hope to see everybody in Albany.”

Johnson led the Tigers with 21 points on 6-10 from the field and an impressive 8-10 at the foul line. Johnson has now eclipsed 20 points or more six times this season, most recently in the SEC tournament against Ole Miss. Johnson also had four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal.

Angel Reese followed as she recorded her 14th consecutive double-double with 20 points and 11 boards after a 14 point second half. It marked her 25th double-double of the season. She dished out three assists and had two steals and a block.

Aneesah Morrow joined Reese as the only other player to earn a double-double as she finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds. She also had three assists. Mikaylah Williams had 16 points and hit a pair of big threes in the second half to help turn the momentum.

Savannah Wheeler scored 21 to lead her squad on 8-24 from the field. Ta’Mia Scott followed with 15 as the only other Blue Raider to reach double figures. Jada Grannum and Courtney Whitson combined for 20 of MTSU’s 41 rebounds. 

LSU’s 83 points were the most MTSU allowed all season as the Tigers ended the Blue Raiders 20-game win streak. They had not lost since their final game in December.

The Tigers second half offense of 51 points moved boosted the LSU total to 85 and marked the most points MTSU has allowed all season, previously 71. 

Both squads went 13-33 from the field in the first half for 39-percent. LSU improved to 48-percent in the second half while MTSU dropped to 28-percent on just 8-29. The Raiders went 2-12 from deep and gave up 9 turnovers in the second half. The Tigers were 3-4 and only allowed 1 turnover as it scored 16 points off of MTSU mistakes. After allowing a season high 24 turnovers on Friday against Rice, LSU only allowed a season best of 7 on Sunday.  

Middle Tennessee took a 7-4 lead early as the Blue Raiders shot 50-percent from the field in the opening three minutes. LSU responded with a 6-0 in just one minute to take a 10-7 lead before the first media break. After Gregory connected on a three for MTSU, Poa and Morrow teamed up for back-to-back triple and took an 8 point Tiger lead. The Raiders outscored LSU 5-2 in the final minute to move within 5 before the end of the first quarter, 20-15. 

LSU scored 4-straight to start the second quarter, but MTSU answered with a 7-0 that forced 3 turnovers. Reese snapped the run with an and-1 down low to move LSU’s lead to four, 26-22. The Raiders went 3-4 from the field to score 7-straight over one minute and to take its second lead of the day with a 3-point advantage over LSU. MTSU built its lead to as much as 6 late in the second, but Williams scored in the final seconds to move LSU within four. The Raiders led LSU 36-32 after the first 20 minutes of action. 

Middle Tennessee scored the first five points of the half to earn its largest lead of the day, 9. Backed by a roaring PMAC crowd, LSU answered with a 9-0 run to tie the game at 41. Johnson went 1-2 from the foul line to regain a Tiger lead for the first time since the fifth minute of the second quarter. Following the media timeout, LSU went on a 13-4 run to take a 8-point, 55-47 lead. LSU’s defense was relentless in the third as a rowdy deaf dome silenced the Raiders offensive effort. The Tigers outscored MTSU 27-13 in the third to take a 59-49 lead into the final quarter. 

LSU outscored the Blue Raiders 15-2 in the fourth as it went 10-10 on its free throws to start the quarter. MTSU’s starters, Anastasiia Boldyreva, Courtney Whitson, and Scott all fouled out in the fourth quarter and forced the Raiders to look to their bench to finish the game. LSU built its lead to as many as 30 before finishing the game with an 83-56 victory over MTSU to survive and advance to the round of sixteen.

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