LSU freshman guard Mike Williams III came off the bench and knocked down six 3-pointers to finish with 20 points, while Hunter Dean and Derek Fountain each had a double-double and the hot-shooting Tigers blew out Northwestern State 96-55 on Friday night in the PMAC in their final game of 2023.
Dean scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, Fountain added 10 points and a season-high 10 rebounds. Will Baker scored 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting for LSU (8-5). Jalen Cook added 13 points and Jordan Wright scored 10.
The Tigers shot a season-high 61% (36 of 59) from the field, made 11 of 21 (52%) from 3-point range and scored 29 points off 20 Northwestern State turnovers.
“Good way to come back from Christmas break,” LSU coach Matt McMahon said.
“I thought our guys came back and prepared the right way. We had one of the better practices I have been a part of the day after Christmas, and I believe that set the tone for the week. We had a slow start in the first half, but when Mike Williams, Trey Hannibal, and Hunter Dean came into the game, the defensive energy picked up, and everyone else sustained that for the rest of the half. There were some outstanding individual performances, but overall, I am excited about the win and look forward to starting preparation for SEC play,” he said
LSU started the game slow, as it has a tendency to do, but after falling behind early caught fire and never looked back.
Northwestern State’s Chris Mubiru hit a 3-pointer and Chase Forte followed with a layup to give the Demons a 7-4 lead, but a steal by Fountain led to a layup by Dean to make it 9-8 with 13:32 left in the first half and LSU led the rest of the way.
Forte made a layup that trimmed Northwestern State’s deficit to 23-18 with 8:03, but the Demons were 1-of-12 shooting and LSU scored 24 of the final 27 first-half points to take a 47-21 lead at halftime.
Forte and Jimel Lane lead Northwestern State (2-11) with nine points apiece. The Demons, who snapped a 10-game losing streak last time out with a win over NAIA Southern-New Orleans, are winless against NCAA-affiliated opponents this season.
“There weren’t many positives in this game,” Northwestern State coach Rick Cabrera said.
“I love my guys and will never give up on them, but I am disappointed as we have to find better results throughout the season than we saw tonight. However, a great thing about basketball is we have another game. There are 18 more games and a conference tournament. So, we will pull our bootstraps up and get better.”
LSU played without the services of three key players due to injury or illness but McMahon said he expected Jalen Reed, Mwani Wilkinson and Tyrell Ward to be ready to go next week.
“From an availability standpoint, Jalen Reed has been out with the flu, Tyrell Ward has been out with an illness, Mwani Wilkinson has been out with a hip injury that has been bothering him for the last two weeks, and I am hoping to have those guys back in practice starting Sunday.”
LSU, which finished 2-16 in the SEC last season, opens conference play Jan. 6 at Texas A&M and McMahon said Jalen Cook’s presence on the floor is taking this team to another level and he likes where the team is now at this point in the season.
“I think we have made great progress in the last two and a half games, starting with the second half against Texas,” McMahon said. Cook’s first action of the season was against Texas. He did not start but came off the bench about four minutes into the game and has been the clear floor leader since.
“Our assist-to-turnover ratio has been a major problem for us all season long, and there has been a lot of improvement in that area over the past two and a half games. As the competition level rises next week, it needs to continue to be an area of improvement for us.
“Our three-point defense had been really poor through the first 11 games, but improvements have been made. Our defensive rebounding has been atrocious early in the season and we have also been making improvements there. I believe our guys played great tonight, and I believe they competed well on the defensive end and displayed great unselfishness on the offensive end of the floor,” McMahon said.