LSU started sluggishly against North Florida on Friday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, doubled the Ospreys scoring output by halftime and built a 57-27 lead early in the second half before having to hold on to win, 75-63.
Senior center Will Baker led LSU with 18 points, while Jordan Wright added 15 points. Tyrell Ward scored 14 points, including two 3-pointers in the second half to help the Tigers stave off UNF, which cut LSU’s lead to nine points with 3:44 left to play.
LSU freshman point guard Mike Williams had 11 points, his first career double-figure output.
UNF freshman guard Jalen Smith scored 13 points to lead the Ospreys. Smith’s points all came in the second half, including 3-of-8 from behind the arc.
LSU (4-2) started the game sluggishly but then amped itself up using an aggressive man defense, strong defensive rebounding, and took advantage of its size advantage to outmuscle the smaller Ospreys offensively to build a 36-18 halftime lead.
UNF (4-3) never led and fell behind by 30 at 57-27 with just under 15 minutes to play in the game but then heated from 3-point range by knocking down eight 3s after only hitting three in the first half and went on a 17-3 run at one point.
UNF cut the Tigers lead to nine points, 68-59, when Max Hrdlicka buried a 24-foot 3 with 3:44 left to play in the game.
Ward, however, responded with a 3-pointer of his own to make it a 71-59 and LSU maintained a 12-to-14-point lead until the end from that point.
“Thankful to get the win here tonight,” LSU coach Matt McMahon said.
“I thought our guys really came out dialed on the defensive side of the ball. We have a lot of respect for North Florida and their three-point attack. They were out scoring their opponents by almost 24 points a game from behind the three-point line. I just loved our effort there on the defensive side for about the first 27 minutes of the game. We were able to create some turnovers – I think Mike Williams had six steals and did a really nice job with putting pressure on the basketball. Big key was there in the first half. We won every media segment, but we had nine turnovers in the first 13 minutes of the game. We didn’t turn it over the rest of the half and we were able to build our lead.
“Lots of teachable moments, obviously, there in the last 10 minutes of the game. But, thrilled to win and excited for the opportunity we have on Tuesday at Syracuse.”
UNF coach Matt Driscoll said LSU’s defense manhandled his team in the first half and that after falling behind by 30 the Ospreys’ goal was to get within striking distance by the 4-minute media timeout.
“They (LSU) really applied the pressure early and really made it difficult for us to get into what we needed to do and run what we wanted to run,” Driscoll said.
“I thought they man-handled us from a physicality standpoint, therefore we had late clock shots and or bad shots and that just led to them getting easier [shots] on the other end of the floor. So, to their credit they came out with a better physicality and we didn’t have a response for them,” Driscoll said.
McMahon agreed LSU’s defense in the first half made the difference.
“I think we had great pressure on the basketball and we did a good job communicating on all their different screening actions. You know they still got to their number for 11 made threes, but I think at one point we were at three for 20. We didn’t give up anything,” McMahon said.
“In the first half we did not give up a point in the first 21 seconds of the shot clock. They hit a couple late, but I thought the pressure and flying around, we contested 3’s and we limited the second shot opportunities in the first 25-27 minutes,” he said.
LSU plays next at Syracuse on Tuesday at 6 PM in the SEC-ACC Challenge on ESPN2.