3/22/19 5:40 am CST
Good morning, Tiger Fans,
If this LSU basketball team was distracted by the Will Wade hoopla, it sure didn’t show it as the Tigers completed step one in their postseason “march” with a 79-74 win over Yale. The opening round victory saw LSU out-shoot, out-rebound, out-steal, and out-block a dangerous Ivy League squad to avoid the upset and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. A brilliant first half and some clutch free-throws down the stretch were enough to overcome a lackluster second half and secure the Tigers’ win, although four Yale three-pointers in the final minute made things a bit too close for comfort. Here’s how the Tigers earned their first NCAA tournament win in a decade.
The first twenty minutes may have been the Tigers’ best all season. LSU came out on fire and shot 58 percent while holding Yale to just 29 percent from the field. LSU interim coach Tony Benford opened the game with a press defense and Tremont Waters drained a nasty step-back jumper before Naz Reid hit a 3-pointer to give LSU an efficient start. Then, Kavell Bigby-Williams beat everybody down the floor after getting a block on the defensive end to give LSU a 9-0 lead. Yale had no choice but to call timeout as Darius Days flexed his muscles and roared from the bench.
Yale got back into the game with 3-point shots, but Javonte Smart regained the momentum for the Tigers with a beautiful drive and hook in the paint. Meanwhile, Bigby-Williams swatted anything laid softly near the rim on the defensive end. Yale started 4-of-13 from the field but three of the field goals made were from deep, which kept things close (17-13) seven minutes in.
The Tigers were in good shape in the first half because they consistently got the ball in the paint and didn’t settle for outside shots. On the opposite end, Yale had to scratch and claw to get any and every point it got. Most of Yale’s success came when the Bulldogs got a stop and generated a fast break. The faster the tempo, the better for Yale early on, but then LSU showed it could run too. A Waters steal and dish to Reid ended with a 6'10" man flying through the air and slamming home a monster dunk.
LSU continued to bully Yale inside (four blocks and six more rebounds), and a step-back 3-pointer by Waters gave LSU a 37-25 lead. Late in the half, a Skylar Mays euro step in transition gave LSU yet another highlight reel finish as the Tigers took a 45-29 lead into the break.
The Tigers are great at moving the basketball and sharing it for open looks but have struggled at times this season to knock down open shots. That wasn’t a problem in the contest. On top of that, LSU did a great job of defending the three, limiting Yale to just 22 percent from behind the arc. As a result, LSU built an 18-point second half advantage (49-31) before Alex Copeland caught fire for the Bulldogs. His third consecutive mid-range jumper cut the Tigers’ lead to 10 before LSU forced a turnover and pushed it up the court with Reid going coast to coast for the “and one.”
A Copeland 3-pointer cut the deficit to single digits for the first time in the second half at around the 12-minute mark. Soon after that, nails began to shorten along with LSU’s lead.
With eight minutes remaining and the score 61-54, Tiger fans had flashbacks to the Florida game. But that’s when LSU’s on-ball pressure defense ramped up and forced Bulldog turnovers on the other end. That allowed LSU to maintain a respectable lead despite a nearly three-minute scoring drought late in the half. Waters broke the drought by exploiting a big man and finding an open Emmitt Williams for the dunk. With 3:43 remaining, LSU led by nine, 65-56.
Yale’s leading scorer, Miye Oni, missed a good look from deep with 1:40 to go that could have cut LSU’s lead to four. That 3-pointer marked 20 misses in Yale’s previous 21 attempts from behind the arc. But wouldn’t you know it, Yale suddenly became red hot and made four three-pointers in the final minute to cut LSU’s lead to three. This forced the Tigers to close the game at the free-throw line, which they did without a glitch.
Bottom line: This was a game where LSU needed to block out the noise, defend the three, and out-rebound its opponent. Despite a bit of a second half lull, the Tigers did this and more in a solid opening round victory. The Tigers had four double-digit scorers, led by Mays with 19 points. Naz Reid had 14 points, Bigby-Williams had 10 (and four blocks), and they each had ten rebounds. Here are video highlights and the complete boxscore.
LSU’s next step in the dance will come against No. 6-seeded Maryland (23-10) – a 79-77 winner over No. 11 Belmont (26-6) – on Saturday at 11:10 a.m.
After the win, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva commented on the Will Wade situation with Jeff Goodman of Watch Stadium. Below is an excerpt of Goodman’s report, which you can read in its entirety here:
Turning to baseball, a top-10 challenge is going down in Athens later tonight as No. 7 LSU is set to face No. 5 Georgia at 6 p.m. in Game 1 of the three-game series. LSU has won five straight games, including a three-game sweep of Kentucky last weekend to start league play, but the Tigers have yet to win on the road this year. Meanwhile, the red hot Georgia Bulldogs are riding a streak of ten consecutive wins. Here’s a little more on the matchup in the form of our normal SEC series preview:
PITCHING, START TIMES, AND COVERAGE:
SERIES RECORD VS. GEORGIA:
LSU leads the all-time series with Georgia, 67-22-3, and this weekend’s series marks the first meeting between the schools since March 17-19, 2017, when the Tigers swept a three-game series from the Bulldogs in Baton Rouge. LSU has won 10 of its last 12 SEC regular-season series versus UGA, and the Tigers have an 16-7-2 advantage over the Bulldogs in games played over the past 10 seasons. LSU has won the last four series meetings in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2017 – Georgia’s last series win over LSU came in Athens in 2011, when the Bulldogs won two of three games.
QUOTING PAUL MAINIERI:
“Georgia has won 10 games in a row, and they have an outstanding club with a lot of power arms and very talented ball players. It’s going to be a battle of two Top 10 teams in the SEC, and it should be a great environment in Athens. We haven’t had much success on the road to this point in the season, so it’s going to be up to all of us to rise up and meet the challenges that a very strong Georgia team will present.”
ABOUT THE BULLDOGS:
• Georgia was the No. 8 National Seed in last season’s NCAA Tournament
• The Bulldogs are No. 4 in the SEC with a .296 team batting average and fourth in the league with 24 homers
• UGA is led at the plate by Tucker Maxwell, who is batting .333 with team highs of five homers and 25 RBI. Riley King is batting .370 with three homers and 25 RBI, and LJ Talley his hitting a team-best .392 with four homers and 15 RBI
• UGA has a very good pitching staff which is No. 5 in the SEC with a 2.52 team ERA. Right-hander Emerson Hancock, who will be pitching tonight, is No. 4 in the league in ERA (0.58) and No. 5 in opponent batting average (.152). Right-hander Tony Locey is fifth in the league in strikeouts (43) and first in opponent batting average (.117). Right-hander Aaron Schunk has an SEC-best seven saves this season.
The LSU softball team (25-6, 4-2) is also in Georgia for a three-game series. Beth Torina’s No. 8/6 Tigers face the Bulldogs (25-6, 1-2) today at 5 p.m. CT. Game 2 of the series is tomorrow at 1 p.m. and Game 3 is set for Sunday at 11 a.m. The first two games will be streamed on SECN+, and the series finale will air on ESPN.
Now for some news on the football front: Running back Tae Provens has decided to transfer away from LSU. He announced the news with a tweet thanking the coaching staff for the opportunity it gave him and stating that leaving his brothers was the hardest part of his decision. That decision was almost certainly based on LSU’s depth chart. With junior Clyde Edwards-Helaire, redshirt freshman Chris Curry, and senior Lanard Fournette, all ahead of him on the depth chart, and with highly-touted true freshmen John Emery and Tyrion Davis reporting to campus this fall, Proven’s decision is certainly understandable. Here’s wishing him the best of luck wherever he ends up. And speaking of Lanard Fournette, reports indicate that he was, in fact, at yesterday’s practice for the first time in a few weeks.
Two more football tidbits in closing:
• Over 100 NFL scouts representing every NFL franchise will be on campus today for LSU’s annual Pro Day event. A total of 12 former LSU players are scheduled to participate, including projected first round picks Devin White and Greedy Williams. A complete recap and real-time results can be found on LSUsports.net/Proday.
• And just for the heck of it, a new LSU Football Big Cat Drill video posted by LSU last night.
Enjoy your Friday, Tiger Fans.