LSU opened the game on a 9-0 run and held off a late charge as the No. 3 seed Tigers advanced with a 79-74 win over No. 14 seed Yale on Thursday in an NCAA tournament East Region first-round matchup in Jacksonville.
Thanks to the hot start, the Tigers (27-6) built a cushion that lasted the entire game as LSU never trailed. The Bulldogs cut the Tigers’ lead to three with under a minute left but LSU closed the game out from the free-throw line.
Point guard Tremont Waters (15 points, seven assists) was the catalyst for the LSU offense in the first half while the frontcourt of senior Kavell Bigby-Williams (10 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks) and freshman Naz Reid (14 points, 10 rebounds) both chipped in double-doubles. Guard Skylar Mays led the Tigers offense with 19 points as he was a big closer from the free-throw line late in the game while also picking up the scoring in the second half when Waters went cold.
The SEC-champion Tigers (27-6) entered the NCAA tournament with some question marks thanks to the recent controversy surrounding suspended head coach Will Wade — as a recent report alleged that he discussed paying for a recruit over a wiretap. LSU didn’t seem fazed without its head coach as they used athleticism and a balanced effort to advance to the second round.
Although LSU got past a tough No. 14 seed in this one, a cold second half on offense will be something to track in the next round. The Tigers were only 4-for-17 (23 percent) from three-point range as they struggled to find consistent second-half offense.
Yale (22-8) was led by the hot shooting of senior guard Alex Copeland (24 points) as he was aggressive hunting his own pull-ups and knocking down catch-and-shoot threes. Unfortunately for Copeland, and the Bulldogs, he didn’t have much help in terms of perimeter shooting. Yale finished an ugly 8-or-36 (22 percent) from three-point range on the afternoon as they couldn’t buy a bucket from the perimeter.
Jordan Bruner (16 points) and Azar Swaim (12 points) also finished in double-figures for the Bulldogs. Yale’s best NBA Draft prospect, junior wing Miye Oni, had a nightmare afternoon, finishing with only five points while going 2-for-16 from the field.
The Ivy League champions did a fine job of eventually adjusting to LSU’s length and athleticism, but the cold perimeter shooting and slow start ultimately was too much to overcome.
LSU advances to face the winner of No. 6 seed Maryland and No. 11 seed Belmont on Saturday in Jacksonville.