LSU takes down Yale, 79-74, to move on in NCAA Tournament
JACKSONVILLE, FL - The #3 seed Tigers held off a late charge from 14th seeded Yale Thursday in Jacksonville to move on to the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament.
LSU led by as many as 18 points in the game but the Bulldogs were able to whittle that down to just three points before the Tigers sank some game saving free throws.
LSU was led by Skylar Mays with 19 points including a 7 of 8 showing from the free throw line. There were four Tigers in double-figure scoring, Mays with 19, Tremont Waters had 15, Naz Reid added 14 and Kavell Bigby-Williams posted a double-double with ten points and ten boards.
The win in Jacksonville, Florida marks LSU's first March Madness win since 2009 and their first overall appearance since 2015.
LSU will meet the winner of the Maryland-Belmont game on Saturday. Belmont defeated Temple, 81-70, in the opening round game Tuesday night in Dayton and arrived shortly before dawn in Jacksonville.
A transcript of the postgame press conference for LSU is listed below:
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 three-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 ACC. 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, okay, 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