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GAME RECAP: No. 3 LSU 79, No. 14 Yale 74

Tigers get up big early, hold on to beat Yale in NCAA opening round

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Louisiana State vs Yale Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 2009, LSU will be advancing in the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers got out of the NCAA tournament’s opening round with a close 79-74 win over the 14th seeded Yale Bulldogs Thursday afternoon in Jacksonville.

The third-seeded Tigers never trailed Yale but the two halves couldn’t have been more different for LSU. LSU cruised to a 45-29 first half lead thanks to punishing Yale in the interior. The Tigers nearly had as many points in the paint, 24, as Yale did total points, 29, in the first half.

The length of LSU’s Kavell Bigby-Williams set the tone early. Bigby-Williams blocked three shots in the first five minutes and LSU was getting whatever they wanted in the game’s opening 20 minute. The Tigers shot 60 percent from the floor and held Yale’s Miye Oni, the Ivy League player of the year, to just three first half points.

But, as we’ve seen so many times, LSU didn’t make it easy on themselves in the second half.

Yale outscored the Tigers 45-34 in the second half. LSU led by as many as 18 points, but Yale wouldn’t go away and cut the Tiger lead down to as little as three points. After finding so much success in the painted area in the first half, LSU quit driving and settled for outside jumpers. LSU hit three of six attempted threes in the first half, but got trigger happy in the second half and was 1-11 from behind the line.

The three-ball wasn’t kind to the Bulldogs either, as Yale was unusually cold from three. Yale came into today’s game shooting 37 percent from three, but today they were 8-37. At one point in the game, Yale missed 21 of 22 three balls which bailed out LSU.

Though the biggest names for LSU are the underclassmen, it was the elder statesmen that guided LSU through the second half. Skylar Mays scored 12 of his 19 points in the second half and Bigby-Williams, the only player with NCAA Tournament experience on LSU’s roster, had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Tremont Waters was sensational in the first half, scoring 13 points and handing out six assists, but Waters went 0-7 in the second half and could only muster two points in the game’s final 20 minutes.

Yale was able to make it a game in the second half even without Oni playing like his typical stellar self. Oni only scored five points and was 2-16 from the floor. But Yale was able to get its points through senior guard and first team All-Ivy League member Alex Copeland, who scored 24 points, and Jordan Bruner who had 16. Copeland and Bruner hit four threes in the waning minutes of regulation to keep the game within a possession or two but Skylar Mays calming presence slammed the door with four free throws in the final 15 seconds.

The name of the game is survive and advance and that’s exactly what LSU did Thursday afternoon in Jacksonville. LSU plays the winner of No. 6 Maryland and No. 11 Belmont Saturday in the Round of 32 for a chance to go to the Sweet 16 in Washington D.C.