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LSU Advances in NCAA Tournament, 79-74, Over Yale

by Todd Politz (@tpolitz)
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LSU Advances in NCAA Tournament, 79-74, Over Yale

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — No. 3 seed LSU built a 16-point halftime lead and held off a late barrage of three pointers by No. 14 seed Yale to advance to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament second round, 79-74, on Thursday afternoon in Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena.

Skylar Mays led the Tigers with 19 points, while Naz Reid added 14 points and tied Kavell Bigby-Williams with a game-high 10 rebounds. Tremont Waters scored 13 of his 15 in the first half and added seven assists, while tying the LSU single-season record with his 93rd steal in 2018-19.

LSU amassed 40 points in the paint, with Bibgy-Williams completing the double double with 10 points. Emmitt Williams came off the bench to score eight points on 4-of-4 shooting with five rebounds.

Worsham: Ten Eyes, Five Guys Help Tigers Shut Down Yale

Yale was led by Alex Copeland, who scored 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting including three of Yale’s eight three pointers. The Bulldogs attempted 37 three pointers – making four in the final 44 seconds – and shot 37.5 percent from the field (27 of 72).

Behind the defense of Marlon Taylor, LSU held Yale leading scorer Miye Oni (17.6 ppg) to only five points on 2-of-16 shooting. 

LSU made 9-of-10 free throws to survive and advance.

Next Up

LSU (27-6), which earned its first NCAA Tournament win since 2009, will face No. 6-seeded Maryland (23-10) – a 79-77 winner over No. 11 Belmont (26-6) – on Saturday at 11:10 a.m. CT (12:10 p.m. local). 

The game will be televised by CBS and broadcast on the LSU Sports Radio Network beginning at 10:30 a.m. CT ( 

The Tigers have split four all-time meetings with Maryland since 1931, the most recent a 79-77 victory over the Terrapins in College Park on Jan. 2, 1989. LSU’s lone matchup against Belmont was a 82-63 victory at the Maravich Center on Dec. 29, 1998.

Yale (22-8) fell to 1-6 in NCAA Tournament play in its fifth appearance.

LSU-Yale Recap

LSU made 3-of-4 shots while Yale missed its first five attempts and was forced to called timeout trailing 9-0 with 17:17 left in the half. A step-back jumper by Waters and a three pointer from the top of the key by Reid had the Bulldogs reeling early.

With 12:42 remaining in the half, Yale cut the Tigers advantage to 21-19, as Swain came off the bench to hit two three pointers and make 2-of-3 free throws after being fouled by Waters behind the arc.

The Tigers began to push the tempo and the change worked. An 10-2 LSU run included a layup by Bigby-Williams over the Bullogs’ zone and a one-handed slam by Reid off a transition pass from Waters. LSU added to its lead with a three pointer by Mays from the left win and led 30-21 on 11-of-19 shooting with 8:15 left.

Waters continued to make the LSU offense flow, as the Tigers pushed the advantage to 39-25 on an ankle-breaking fast-break layup by Mays.

With a layup by Waters, LSU took a 45-29 lead into the lockerroom, tying its largest halftime advantage in its NCAA Tournament history (March 20, 1981, vs. Arkansas).

The Tigers shot 60 percent from the field in the half (18 of 30) and outrebounded Yale, 22-16. Water led the Tigers with 13 points and six assists.

Yale fought back early in the second half, cutting an 18-point LSU lead in half, 55-46, on a Copeland three pointer with 12:13 to play. Copeland’s nine points on 4-of-4 shooting to start the second half kept the Bulldogs in the game.

As both teams cooled off from the field over a four-minute span, Williams’ dunk off a feed from Waters gave LSU a 65-56 lead with 4:33 to play.

Yale made four of its eight three pointers in the final 44 seconds of the game to get within three with 12 seconds to play, but LSU made 9-of-10 free throws during this span to keep the Bulldogs at bay. 


March 21, 2019

Tony Benford
Tremont Waters
Skylar Mays
Naz Reid

Jacksonville, Florida

LSU – 79, Yale – 74

TONY BENFORD: First of all, we’re excited with obviously being able to survive and advance. I thought our guys came out and especially in the first half, we really executed our game plan. We wanted to attack the paint, and I think — paint points in the first half, we kind of dominated them in the paint. And I thought we were good defensively in the first half. We did a great job getting to their shooters, making it tough for those guys to get to the paint.

I thought the second half we came out and gave up some easy baskets, but I give them all credit. They’re a good team. They play with a lot of confidence, a lot of poise, and they made some big shots when they needed to. But we were able to make some free throws down the stretch that enabled us to win the game. We got some stops that we needed down the stretch. But we’re really, really happy to have the win.

Q. Naz, what was it like for you, your NCAA Tournament debut? How did it live you are to your dreams or expectations coming in?
NAZ REID: It was a pretty tough, hard-nosed team who didn’t let up, and they were very competitive, and that’s something we are going to see throughout the whole March Madness.

Q. After having such a close game against Florida go the other way, how nice was it for you to bounce back at crunch time and stave off that late push?
TREMONT WATERS: Obviously the Florida game didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, but as a team we were able to grow from it and pretty much learn what we had to do and made free throws, like Coach said, and everything just fell into place for us.

Q. Naz, was that game a little closer than you had hoped, and what can you learn from that game that you can take to move on Saturday and hopefully going forward?
NAZ REID: I mean, just controlling the lead, controlling the tempo on both sides of the floor. As far as the whole team, just playing our best and going out and playing hard as we can.

Going forward, it’s a lot — no discredit to Yale, but it’s going to be a lot of tougher teams going forward, so we’ve just got to be able to balance everything out and do what we do best.

Q. Naz, Kavell Bigby-Williams came up big early in the game with four blocks. How much easier does he make your job whenever he’s on like that?
NAZ REID: I mean, he’s tremendous. 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.

Q. 45 points in the first half, what was the key to coming out so hot offensively?
SKYLAR MAYS: I’d just say we were aggressive and we had a great game plan getting into the paint and using our size advantage, and Naz did a great job getting in the paint, Tremont was all over the place, and all these guys did a great job.

Q. Tremont or anybody else, could you talk a little bit about the factor for KBW early? Three rejections in the first five and a half minutes; did you kind of sense that Yale was a little bit altering their shots and making it really difficult to get those inside points for them, at least early on?
TREMONT WATERS: Yeah, going into the game, or the whole time, I just spoke to Kavell, and that’s his role on this team, he does that, and altering shots is something he’s great at. So just going into the game we spoke to him about that, and he was able to get three or four blocks, and that kind of made Yale think about going in there a second time, and that’s why they started shooting pull-ups.

Copeland, he’s really good at that. And then just making them shoot outside shots. So having a presence like him down there just makes our job a lot easier, like Naz said.

Q. Coach, can you just talk about Naz and what he brings to the team overall and how you felt he played today? Obviously he was the biggest guy on the court, they didn’t have anyone that could really match up?
TONY BENFORD: Yeah, Naz has been great to coach. He’s fun. He’s in tremendous shape. He’s really changed his body. But we wanted to play through him. We wanted to get paint touches. That’s one of our game standards was get 50 or more paint touches. I thought we did that establishing the paint points early, and Naz did a great job. Stepped out, I don’t know if he made a three, might have made one, I’m not sure, but we’ve just got to keep playing through him moving forward, and we’ve got to do a great job on the defensive end, as well, too.

Q. What was your assessment of how things started to kind of slip away a little bit, when the lead went from 16 down to 8, and Yale wasn’t even making 3-point shots at that time but yet — did you feel like your team got a little bit unsettled, a little out of rhythm?
TONY BENFORD: The thing is we’re in the NCAA Tournament. I’ve been to the tournament as a player, coach for years, a lot of years. There’s good teams in the tournament. They’re going to make a run. Basketball is a game of runs. They made a good run.

I thought there was a couple times where guys that — I don’t know if we were pointing fingers at one another, we had some defensive breakdowns and I think guys were challenging their teammates, and we talk about that, taking ownership and keeping one another accountable. We tried to do that, but I think they were able to regroup through all that and through adversity to make some free throws. But Yale is a quality team. They’ve won a lot of games, beat some quality opponents and we knew it was going to be a tough game. So I want to give them some credit, too.

Q. What did you feel you guys did well on defense to hold Miye Oni to just five points and limit Yale 8 of 37 from three in that game?
TONY BENFORD: Yeah, well, the kid Marlon Taylor we have, he’s one of the best athletes in the SEC. Really good defender. Marlon is about 6’5″, 6’6″. We told him it’s going to be a challenge. Oni is a really good player, he’s a pro prospect, and I thought Marlon did a really good job of really being there on the catch and making it difficult for him to get to the rim, and I thought he challenged his three-point shots really well. So I thought Marlon Taylor did a really good job.

Q. Tony, you guys have been in so many close games during the regular season. Did you sense anything was different in this game or did you feel it was a comfort zone with your players, even though Yale is making a run and they’re cutting your lead down? Did you feel like you still had things under control emotionally?
TONY BENFORD: Well, I thought that we had to get some stops. That’s what I kept preaching to our guys, hey, we’ve got to keep our poise and we’ve got to make sure we get stops down the stretch, and then finish those defensive possessions with rebounds. They hit some tough shots, but I thought we were able to come down and execute in the half court. We got Naz, I think we cut it — I forget, about four, six, we ran a play to get Naz an easy baskets, and then came down and got some stops. But we made our free throws.

You’re right, played a lot of close games and were fortunate to pull this one out today.

Q. What would you say to anybody who maybe pays scant attention to LSU basketball, just watching it, and they see the news developments the last few weeks, who would think in any way disparagingly about your program because of allegedly possibly a rogue decision made by a coach that didn’t involve any of the players except for possibly one on your team?
TONY BENFORD: Well, bottom line, we’re not going to worry about the outside noise. We’ve got good character kids, OK, and you’ve got Skylar Mays, Scholar-Athlete of the Year in the SEC, and we’ve got some really good quality kids on our team. So we’re just going to control what we can control and that’s getting better every day, getting ready to prepare for our next opponent. That’s all we can control. Outside noise, we can’t worry about that, all we can control is the inside noise. That’s all we’re going to worry about.

Q. Kavell obviously had a huge impact on the game defensively, but also I thought offensively put-backs. Can you talk about how he almost seems like at times an afterthought with this team but some of the importance he has in the game?
TONY BENFORD: Well, Kavell is kind of X factor like Tre said. Should have been in the SEC All-Defensive Team. Does a great job. First of all, he’s smart. He’s got a high IQ, does a great job of communicating to his teammates out there. And he really absorbs all scouting reports. That’s one thing. He takes it to the court and helps the other guys out, so he’s always in great position because of that. He watches a lot of film on who he’s going to defend and everything.

He’s been huge for us this year, like Naz said, he will really covers up for Naz and those guys. If they make a mistake, they knows he’s back there to protect the rim.

Q. After a blazing hot first half y’all seemed to struggle to find good looks in the second half. What do you think contributed to that? Was that on your end or was that an adjustment they made?
TONY BENFORD: Well, I think a combination of both. Again, Yale, Coach Jones does a great job. They’ve got a lot of pride and they got some guys that can make some shots. They hit some big shots, and I thought we got — we were kind of stagnant there in the second half. We didn’t execute as well as we needed to, and we settled too much. I thought we settled for some jumpers when we should have — we wanted, again, to continue to attack the paint like we did in the first half. I didn’t think we did that in the second half until we had to.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports


March 21, 2019

James Jones
Alex Copeland
Blake Reynolds

Jacksonville, Florida

LSU – 79, Yale – 74

JAMES JONES: I thought that our kids did a great job at fighting the entire 40 minutes. We obviously didn’t shoot the ball as well as we’d like to or as well as we have in the past, but the energy and effort was there, and you’ve got to tip your hat to LSU for holding onto a lead and knocking down their free throws. But I was very proud of our young men. I told them such in the locker room, and it’s been a great season for Yale basketball, and as I said, I couldn’t be prouder of my group.

Q. Alex, what’s the feeling with the team down 18 early in the second half? You guys obviously made the comeback. What’s the feeling there, and what did you do to get back in the game?
ALEX COPELAND: I’m so proud of this group and just the fight that we showed. We were in the locker room at halftime, and I think we were a little down for a moment, but we all kind of came together and told each other, look, we can do this. We can fight back. We’ve been down before, and to come out and battle back like that and put on a show for our fans that were here and that were watching us across the country feels amazing. I think it’s just a testament to the guys we have in this locker room.

Q. Obviously Miye had a tough day out there defensively. Do you think that had more to do with their defense, and how were you able to keep it so close with him having only five points?
BLAKE REYNOLDS: Well, I mean, I said this yesterday in our press conference, but I think we have a lot of weapons on our team that can contribute on any given night. So on a night when one guy, like tonight maybe Miye maybe struggled a little bit from the floor, his teammates were there to pick him up and help our team score points.

Any given night anyone on our team can hurt you, and I think that’s what made our team so special this year.

Q. Blake, I’m sure you knew what to expect from LSU, but was there anything about their size and athleticism that maybe took you aback at the start of the game or was it more or less what you expected in terms of their overall talent?
BLAKE REYNOLDS: Yeah, you know, coming from playing in our league to playing an SEC team definitely very athletic and very strong inside. We knew they were going to be relentless on the glass tonight, and they were. And I think we did a fairly good job of battling them on the boards. But yeah, definitely real big and strong down there, but I thought we fought hard.

Q. Blake, you made a basket with just over eight minutes left to cut LSU’s lead to seven and over the next five and a half minutes you guys only cut their lead to two. They didn’t score much. Do you think looking back that’s a part that’s going to frustrate you, that y’all had a chance in that period, that part of the game and couldn’t really make it a one or two-point game?
BLAKE REYNOLDS: Right, yeah. Through that stretch we were really doing a good job on defense. We were switching the ball screens and I think that kind of frustrated them. Yeah, that’s a portion of the game that I’m going to think about a lot, looking back on it, that we couldn’t quite take the lead or quite get over the hump there.

But you know, hats off to LSU; they played solid defense, and they held us limited on offense there during that stretch.

Q. Bigby-Williams, he’s not always the one people focus on, but LSU is undefeated when he has a double-double, and he had four blocks, and changes shots. What were the problems he created for you, No. 11?
JAMES JONES: Well, he’s a big long center and obviously he’s going to clog up the paint a little bit, made it hard for us to get at the rim, and he was able to score and we fouled him a little bit, as well. Any time you get a guy that goes for a double-double that’s going to put a bite in the works in terms of what you’re able to do to be successful, and he had a nice game for them, and so you’ve got to tip your hat.

Q. James, with Miye, what do you think it was with him today? Obviously LSU did a good job on him, but he just never seemed to get on track, and how hard is it to win a game without him having a big game?
JAMES JONES: Yeah, my son is 13, and he’s a big James Harden fan, and every time James Harden plays, it would be the first quarter, and James Harden will be 1 for 9, and he’ll be like, “James Harden sucks. He stinks. He can’t play.”

So you’re going to have games where you knock the ball in and you don’t. You guys all watch the game, like Miye had open shots that just didn’t go down. And he’s hit tougher shots than he had tonight that he missed.

Did they do a good job on him defensively? Certainly they worked hard to try to limit him. But he’s good enough to get good shots, and I thought we thought we got good shots for him, and they just didn’t fall down tonight, so sometimes that’s going to happen to you, and you’ve just got to live with it.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

Yale then answered Reid’s pair of free throws with a corner three pointer by Bruner to cut the LSU lead to four, 72-68, with 30.9 seconds to play. Yale would cut the lead to three before finally missing a shot late.