JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The third-seeded LSU basketball team survived a late scare from 14th-seeded Yale on Thursday afternoon with a 79-74 victory.
The win came despite a lethargic second-half performance, but one that served as good enough to keep the Tigers (27-6) alive and send the Bulldogs (22-8) home.
We’re excited with obviously being able to survive and advance,” said LSU interim head coach Tony Benford. “I thought our guys came out and especially in the first half, really executed our game plan.”
Skylar Mays led LSU in scoring with 19 points thank sin large part to shooting 7-for-8 from the free throw line, where the Tigers uncharacteristically struggled as a unit shooting worse than 68 percent from the stripe.
Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams both had solid days in the post. Reid made most of his noise offensively with 14 points to go along with 10 rebounds, while Bigby-Williams made his impact on defense especially early on.
Bigby-Williams tallied three blocks in the first 5:25 of the game, forcing the Bulldogs to think twice about entering the paint for much of the first half.
“He’s tremendous,” Reid said of Bigby-Williams. “He makes my job way easier than it has to be. You know, if a guy gets by me or baseline, Kavell is right there and he’s able to stop the person with the ball, and he’s a big help to all of us.”
The Tigers took a 16-point lead into the second half. They set the tone of the game jumping out to a 9-0 lead and forcing Yale to call a timeout less than three minutes into the game.
The Bulldogs momentarily bounced back, cutting that lead to two points with some good 3-point shooting, but LSU’s post play severely limited Yale’s ability to score for most of the half.
Yale hit just 10-of-34 field goal attempts while the Tigers shot 18-for-30 to jump out to a 45-29 lead at the break.
Bigby-Williams served as a force in the paint for the Tigers, tallying 8 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks in the first 20 minutes of the game.
“I feel like my defensive presence definitely made a difference today,” Bigby-Williams said in the locker room after the game. “Coach told us the majority of the (Yale) guys can shoot. We knew it was going to be that kind of game.”
Waters also led the team as effectively as he has become expected to. Posting a +/- of +19 in the first half, Waters shot 5-for-7 from the field for 13 points to go along with 6 assists and a steal.
“We were aggressive, and we had a great game plan getting into the paint and using our size advantage,” Mays said. “Naz did a great job getting in the paint, Tremont was all over the place, and all these guys did a great job.”
After getting off to a blistering hot start to the game, LSU’s offense stagnated, allowing the Bulldogs to chip away at the lead.
Luckily for the Tigers, Yale went on a cold streak late in the game, going nearly five minutes without recording a field goal.
Yale got hot to close the game, hitting four 3-pointers in the final minute to cut LSU’s lead to three points and forcing the Tigers to close the game out at the free-throw line, but ultimately the run was too little, too late to complete the comeback.
“In practice, we work on situations like this,” Bigby-Williams said. “We work on the last six minutes of a game to prepare for that.”
The Tigers will return to action Saturday at a time yet to be determined when they take on sixth-seeded Maryland, who advanced with a 79-77 victory over Belmont.