LSU’s KJ Williams had it going on Monday in the Cayman Islands.
Williams, a preseason second-team All-SEC selection, poured in 33 points to lead all scorers and LSU built a 27-point first-half lead in a 77-61 win over Illinois State in the first round of Cayman Islands Classic on Monday.
Williams scored 22 of his game-high 33 points in the first half before picking up his fourth personal foul early in the second half and being forced to the bench for several minutes. He also had 8 rebounds.
Adam Miller scored 13 points, while Cam Hayes came off the bench to add 10 for LSU (4-0) which faces Akron on Tuesday at 12:30 Central.
Darius Buford led Illinois St. (2-3) with 17 points, while Seneca Knight scored 14 and Colton Sandage added 12 points, including three 3-pointers in the second half.
LSU defense in the first half suffocated Illinois St., holding the Redbirds scoring leader, Kendall Lewis, to four and only one field goal. The Tigers also forced 10 turnovers, building a 45-18 halftime lead.
It was the largest halftime lead for LSU since 2015 when the Tigers led at halftime by 27 against Tennessee in Knoxville.
“Awesome first 20 minutes,” LSU coach Matt McMahon said. “Wish I could have gone back to the beach after halftime. It was a little ragged in the second half.”
Illinois State went on a 10-2 run at the start the second half, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 47-28 after Colton Sandage hit a pair of 3-pointers. The Redbirds also forced a turnover by LSU in the offensive paint when Mwani Wilkinson tried to hit Jalen Reed with a bounce pass coming off a screen at the goal.
McMahon quickly called a timeout.
“They scored 10 points in the first minute and a half of the second half,” McMahon said, saying he had do something to stop the bleeding quickly.
Out of the timeout, Williams picked right back up where he left off in the first half.
Williams came off a high screen, took a feed from guard Trae Hannibal and scored on a hard contested layup, drawing a foul and converting the free throw to make it 50-28.
“I love that he can make a three,” McMahon said. “But I gave KJ a friendly reminder you are shooting a layup down there every time we get you the ball, so . . .”
In addition to its smothering defense in the first half, LSU was also fundamentally sound on offense, McMahon said.
“Then, in the second half, it looked like we had never thrown a pass before,” he said.
LSU should spend some time from now until Tuesday’s tip focusing on and celebrating today’s first half against Illinois St, McMahon said.
“The guys should celebrate these first 20 minutes today. “That’s hard to do. But that’s what we can become – not just in four-minute segments,” he said.
LSU’s first-half performance against Illinois St. showed what a strong, fundamental offense and great defense can do for you, when you combine and play solid on both sides for extended periods.
“Hope we can continue to build off that. Both Western Kentucky and Akron are solid teams,” McMahon said.