GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Marcus Thornton scored 30 points to lead the eighth-seeded LSU men's basketball team to a 75-71 win over No. 9-seed Butler in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
The Tigers (27-7) led by as many as 13 in the first half before Horizon League Player of the Year Matt Howard helped the Butler Bulldogs (26-6) erase the deficit less than five minutes into the second half.
Thornton, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, was too much for the Bulldogs to handle, as the guard made 10-of-15 shots including 3-of-4 from three-point range to lead the Tigers to their first NCAA win since the 2006 regional final over Texas.
"Obviously we played well in spurts," LSU head coach Trent Johnson said. "We have a lot of respect for Butler basketball team, we knew they were a possession by possession team. I thought it was a tough game. We got off to a great start and then we hit a wall where shots didn't go down for us. We found a way to win a game and found a way to make some plays down the stretch."
On Saturday at either 4:45 p.m. CDT, LSU will face the the South Region's top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels (29-4). North Carolina defeated No. 16-seed Radford, 101-58, on Thursday afternoon.
Tigers forward Tasmin Mitchell and center Chris Johnson each shot 50 percent from the field and scored 14 and 12, respectively. The Tigers shot 49.1 percent (27 of 55) and committed only 11 turnovers.
Howard led the Bulldogs with 22 points but sat on the bench for 13 minutes in the first half with two early fouls. Howard's return helped the Bulldogs cut a 13-point deficit to six at halftime, and his role on both ends of the court gave Butler three leads in the second half. Butler never led by more than one point throughout.
Shelvin Mack added 18 points, while Gordon Hayward had 12 points on four three pointers.
Butler managed only 42.3 percent from the field (22 of 53).
The Tigers blitzed the Bulldogs in the opening minutes, scoring the first nine points with only 1:42 off the clock. Point guard Bo Spencer hit a three pointer and a layup to start the run of four-straight baskets, forcing a Butler timeout.
Later in the half, neither team scored for more than five minutes as the Tigers maintained a 15-8 lead until Hayward hit a three pointer with 9:08 to play in the half to bolster a 10-2 Butler run.
A three pointer by LSU reserve guard Terry Martin ended a seven-minute field goal drought and pushed the lead to 18-13 with 6:26 left in the half. The basket started a 16-5 run by the Tigers that included nine points by Thornton.
Leading 31-18 with 3:41 to play, Butler was forced to put Howard back in the game. The 6-8 sophomore hit a three pointer to begin an 11-4 Bulldogs run to end the half.
LSU led 35-29 at the break.
Three LSU turnovers allowed Butler to score seven points in 55 seconds early in the second half and cut the deficit to one, 41-40, as LSU coach Trent Johnson called a timeout with 15:49 left.
Butler took its first lead, 42-41, on an alley-oop to Veasley with 15:04 remaining, but the Bulldogs were not able to capitalize on opportunities to expand their lead.
A pair of three pointers by guard Garrett Temple and Thornton gave LSU a four-point advantage, 49-45. Four-straight free throws by Butler tied the game, but Thornton and Johnson each scored to push the LSU lead back to four, 53-49, with 11:03 to play.
The Bulldogs took the lead for the final time, 54-53, with five-straight points including a three pointer by Hayward. Tied at 58-58, Thornton anchored a 9-3 LSU run that put the Tigers ahead by six, 67-61, with 2:07 to play.
Haywood and Mack each hit three pointers inside 27.1 seconds to play, but the Tigers made 8-of-9 free throws to survive and advance.
The NCAA South Region game was the first to tipoff in this year's tournament.
LSU Postgame Notes
- LSU has now won its first NCAA game in 11 of 20 tournament appearances. The Tigers are now 24-22 in NCAA play. LSU Coach Trent Johnson improved his NCAA record to 5-4. He’s now won NCAA games at three schools ľ Nevada, Stanford and LSU.
- The victory was LSU’s 27th win this season, matching the third best win total in school history. The 1981 LSU team won 31 games and the 2000 team won 28. The Tigers also won 27 games in 2006.
- LSU’s Marcus Thornton, the SEC player of the year, scored 30 points ľ his seventh 30-point game this season and his 18th-straight game in double figures. He also made a big jump on the LSU career scoring list. The senior from Baton Rouge raised his career point total from 1,292 points to 1,322 points ľ passing No. 24 Maurice Carter (1,299) and No. 23 Roger Sigler (1,318). Next on the list is No. 22 Bill Newton (1,339 between 1969-72).
- Thornton is the fifth player in LSU history to score 30 or more points in an NCAA game. Chris Jackson scored 33 in a first-round loss to UTEP in 1989. Durand Macklin scored 31 in a second-round victory over Alcorn State in 1980, then scored 31 a year later in a second-round victory over Lamar. Maurice Williamson scored 30 in a first-round victory over BYU in 1992.
- LSU’s win over Butler was its first this season over a ranked opponent. The Tigers were 0-1 against ranked teams in the regular season, losing to No. 15 (at the time) Xavier in Baton Rouge in January.
- LSU’s victory over Butler was its first-ever against the Bulldogs. But the Tigers improved to 6-0 against teams from the Horizon League.
LSU vs. Butler - Post-Game Quotes
March 19, 2009
COACH JOHNSON: We played well in spurts. We have a lot of respect for the Butler basketball team. We knew they were a possession by possession team. We hit a wall there where shots didn't go down for us. For the most part, I thought we did what we did all day long. We found a way to win the game and found a way to make some plays down the stretch.
Q. Just wondered if you could talk about that spill you had kind of late in the game. The collision under the basket, and how were you in the immediate aftermath of that and just coming back from it?
MARCUS THORNTON: Yeah, I had got an offensive rebound on the way back up. When I fell, a couple people fell on my leg. I knew it was a big game to be in this is Marcus Thornton. I had to suck it up to be back out there, and that's what I did.
Q. Could you talk about how your defense was the difference in this game down the stretch. Chris got the block the other way, and you get easy baskets. It was back and forth offensively. But defensively you kind of took the game over?
TASMIN MITCHELL: Coach always emphasized defense. He said defense wins championships, offense wins games. And you know, this is a championship season. And this whole tournament, you know, the defense is going to come out key in every game. So that was a big play. Chris made it in, and the defense did come into play.
Q. When they took the 1 point lead in the second half, did you sort of make a decision about your game to be more aggressive to start looking if are your shot a little more after that point?
MARCUS THORNTON: Not that, I just took what they gave me. We have a play call, you know, we've been running the whole year and nobody can stop it. So I just took whatever they gave me. If they were on me, Tas was over me, and my teammates were over me. I just tried to get them in spots where I knew they could score, and the ball went down for us today.
Q. Can you talk about how everyone played their role today? Marcus scored because he needed to. Tasmin was the second scorer. But you Chipped in with offense as did Chris Johnson who provided the defense. Talk about the team where everyone played their role effectively today?
BO SPENCER: Yeah, we all, the whole year we've been discussing that everyone has to know their roles. Marcus, we know he's one of our main scorers, and so is Tasmin. So we tried to get them the ball as often to go to work and score the ball. I chip in my little points every now and then. And Chris stepped up big, and Garret also stepped up.
And everyone is learning their roles. We know who our main scorers are, we try to give them the ball. Other three we try to chip in as much as we can. Everyone played their role, and we came out with the big win.
Q. Just looking at the steals and the blocks, 11 steels, 8 blocks, 19 combined compared to 4 for Butler. Could you just address the way you were aggressive the entire 40 minutes on defense. Obviously, that's something Trent preaches. But the way you fulfilled that game plan, if you all could just address that?
MARCUS THORNTON: Coach came in, his first day at LSU he talked to us, and he told us the defense will be our M.O. the whole year. And if you don't play defense you don't get in the game. It's as simple as that. So we all came together as a team and tried to play team defense. Team defense, that's how you win games. Not individually, we need the team to win the game. And we locked up at the end of the stretch. Chris came up big for us. Tas came up big, and that's what a team does, stick together and came out with the victory.
Q. Did you get up any extra shots the last couple of days? Or did you do anything to address your shooting or did it just feel better?
MARCUS THORNTON: Yeah, we came here for the 40 minutes and we shot around to try to get a feel for the arena. And then after we went to the off site near the arena. Got a couple of free throw shots up. As a team, we knew we had to get a couple of shots up. Because the ball hasn't been going down the last couple of games. So everybody just took their time and knocked down the big shots.
Q. In the first half the way the game was going, did it look like y'all were going to get a large lead there in the first half? It looked like you thought maybe y'all could run away with it?
TASMIN MITCHELL: Well, you know, we never got overwhelmed with the lead we had in the first half, because the game's never over. Like I said, we started off real good. We made like five or six bad decisions down on the defensive end, and that kind of brought them back in the game within six. So, you know, we were going into the game hoping we could get the big lead on them, but this is the NCAA Tournament.
Q. Closing out games is so crucial at this point in the season. From your perspective, how were you all able to close this one out?
TASMIN MITCHELL: Like I said, defense. We made some key stops at the end. You know, Chris Johnson. He made a huge block down at the end of the game. And that's what really topped the cake for us. Won the game today.
Q. Just address this a little bit. But maybe Marcus and Bo, can you talk a little about how Chris Johnson played after coming back from three fouls and playing solid down the stretch defensively?
TASMIN MITCHELL: We told Chris to come out aggressive. Don't worry about the fouls. We need him. That's what coach always says. Don't worry about the fouls, just be careful, but always play with your intensity. And that's what he did. He came back out with three fouls, played like he didn't have none. So that was a big thing for us.
Q. What did you guys see on tape before this game about your ability to get down low and get easy baskets? I know you had a smaller guy on you, Marcus and Tasmin, they kept feeding you the ball in the first and second half. And you had some easy buckets as well?
MARCUS THORNTON: I'll speak on Tas's behalf. He's been a work horse the whole year. Shorter guys, taller guys. He's taken it. He's our strongest player on the team. Anyway he can get it down there, something good is going to happen. He's a veteran to so we have confidence in there, too. Just going into every game and doing what we've been doing the whole year which is running our plays and executing. It went down for us tonight and we won the game.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions for Coach Trent Johnson.
Q. I know you're happy with the obvious result. But talk about your defense in the final few minutes and how that was the difference in this basketball game?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I thought it was pretty good. Nate made a run at us, and I think they went up 1. And for whatever reason our intensity, our effort didn't look good. It looked like there was a little doubt. So we had a timeout. You know, I didn't challenge them.
I just said hey, look, they're not going anywhere. We knew this was a good basketball team coming in, so we're going to have to really ratchet up a notch with our intensity and play extremely hard.
I thought Bo was really good at the point of attack. Bo did a really good job of helping down in the post early and often when the ball was thrown. And of course, Chris, he's been much aligned all year long. How can you not be so happy for a kid like that who on this stage is at the free throw line making crucial free throws, but more importantly comes up with a couple of key defensive stops on a pretty good basketball player.
So any time you manage to win, it comes from the defensive side of the ball, it's an encouraging thing and a thing that's really good.
Q. You just sort of addressed this question a little bit, but like I asked the players down the stretch. Chris played, came back with three fouls. Against Howard, he's obviously very crafty. And he manages not to ever get that fourth foul. Can you talk about maybe the poise and intelligence he played with?
COACH JOHNSON: I thought poise was huge from his standpoint and our whole team's standpoint. But, again, late in the year, he was sick, and he was struggling with his confidence and his teammates and the coaching staff never lost confidence in him.
You know, he's a very, very good kid. At times, like most players, he loses focus on the offensive side of the ball and maybe defense sometimes. But, again, he stayed within himself. He really concentrated on this stage against a very, very good basketball player who they go to all the time once they cross half court.
Q. I know there's no such thing as style points necessarily at this point. But the way that you guys won the game with the steals, with the blocks, withstanding a comeback and hitting crucial free throws. Does that kind of make this a little more sweet for you guys? Give you a nice platform the rest of the way?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, it's what we've been doing all year long when we win games. I mean, we managed it because we helped each other out defensively. Marcus understands the angles. At Tennessee they gamble a couple of times. But I don't know about style points. This team has been grinding all year long. Somebody asked one of the student athletes about did we think we were going to blow them out? We haven't blown anybody out all year long. We just managed to try to find a way to do the right things to put yourself in a situation to compete and win games. Offensively, we have a couple of guys that can make some plays. And when those guys don't make plays we have some other guys that are not afraid to step up and shoot the ball.
As Marcus said earlier, our M.O. is if we defend, if we rebound, then we take care of the ball with a sense of urgency, we can compete with a lot of people. So if that means we've got style points, so be it.
Q. Marcus Thornton is heralded for his three point shooting ability. But how crucial was the work he did on the lane and on the glass tonight as well?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, again, he can play. I mean, I think Brad said it best, Coach Steven said it best. I read it somewhere he said in his opinion Marcus is a pro because in his opinion he's a unique player he can run off the baseline stagger pivot off his left foot and catch and shoot it. Go off, I see right foot go right or left. He rebounds the ball. We know we've seen him a lot and he's stepped up his ability to defend. So he gives you a multitude of options. He's, you know, he's special player, but he's a better person than a player. I mean, he really, when you hear him talk about his teammates and buying into coaches. He's brutally honest sometimes. Sometimes.
Q. Did Butler do anything that you were not expecting either on offense or defense? Because it looked like you guys were, you know, pretty well prepared for everything they threw at you?
COACH JOHNSON: No, they didn't. They were really well prepared for what we threw at them. I mean, that's a hell of a basketball team. You know, I have the utmost respect for that whole operation. Barry Collyer, the athletic director, and Brent who is a hell of a coach. So they weren't going to change anything in what they've done all year long. Why would they?
You know, it just happened that, you know, the ball went down for us. We had a guy make some plays at a crucial time, and maybe they didn't. But, no, I don't think they did anything special.
Q. When they came out of the locker room they made a concerted effort to get the ball down low to Howard. It was a successful thing for them early on?
COACH JOHNSON: You think?
Q. Well, yeah. But what kind of adjustment did you decide to make from that point?
COACH JOHNSON: They were doing it all game long. Everybody that's played against us and every solid, sound basketball team is going to attack inside out whether it be off the dribble on the perimeter or through the post play. But they happen to have a multitude of weapons when they've got a post player to play, and Shelvin Mack is going off to bounce him.
It's all about good team defense. When we decide to make a decision to leave our post guys on our own. We couldn't afford to cover off their perimeter players. My goodness, Hayward, if he's not special, I don't know what he is. He's as good a freshman as I've seen all year long. So every time he got into a situation, we rotated him in, and we're going to cover down Howard, and make a good decision, he kicked it back out and made the three.
So we left our post guys on their own. And for the most part Quintin Thornton, excuse me, I thought they did a good job.
Q. Could you talk about the potential challenge in the second round game, particularly playing in the opponent's backyard, and what do you all have to do better on Saturday?
COACH JOHNSON: Who, Radford? Geez. Wherever we play we're going to try to concentrate well, not try. We're going to do the things we've been doing all year long. If it's Radford, obviously, they'll have to have a monumental win versus an exceptional program.
But if it's North Carolina, I think we have an advantage because our basketball coach is light years brighter than Roy Williams, so I think (laughing). No, we're just going to come out and be ready to play. We're thankful to be playing. We're thankful to be playing, my goodness (laughing).
Q. You talk a lot about how much tape you like to watch. But in a situation like this, you stick around and watch what happens here or you got to get back to the hotel and maybe rest up?
COACH JOHNSON: I think everybody in the country is prepared, if it's Carolina because they may have one game that hasn't been on TV. So I think coach will be all right. I think I'll get my hour in if that's okay.
Q. How nice was it to see the ball falling for Marcus? And how much of a relief is that for you?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, again, when you've got Tasmin 7 out of 14, Chris was 4 out of 8, Marcus was 10 out of 15, and Terry Martin was 1 out of 4. It was really comfortable. Thought both did a good job of managing the team. He seems to be the lost guy in all of this. But Bo got us off to a great start. He hit two big threes and made the good decisions and he had five assists and two turnovers in 39 minutes and three steals. So I thought we executed well, thought the ball went down for us. We're 27 out of 55. So that's roughly 49%. So I thought it was good. It beats the alternative.
COACH STEVENS: I thought we got beaten by a really good team today. They had a tremendous year, and stepped up and answered every one of our challenges. I was proud of our guys for their effort. You know, obviously with mostly freshmen and sophomores and two juniors on your roster that played, kind of anticipated that there may be a little jitters and maybe a slow start.
I don't know if I thought it was going to be 9 0 right away. But I thought we really settled down, we fought. We just came up a little bit short.
The hard part about that is you can go back and look at all the possessions and inevitably there will be things that we feel like we could have done a lot better. But that was this chance. Now we have to prepare to try to earn this opportunity again.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.
Q. When Butler took the lead several times in the second half, did you feel like maybe the tempo and the way the game was played was tipping your way, and if that didn't happen, what did LSU then do to kind of seize it back?
COACH STEVENS: I don't know about tempo. I thought tempo was pretty standard throughout the game both ways. LSU seized it back by really good players making really good plays. We didn't have an answer for Thornton. That hasn't happened very often since I've been here, a guy that really just, he answered every challenge. He made every big shot. We were there, our guys played as hard as they could on him. I just thought he was terrific.
You run into players like that in the NCAA Tournament. As I was watching them on tape, I thought he was probably a pro, now I'm convinced of it.
Q. Talk about the physical play that you and Johnson kind of went at it for a while. Then you and Tasmin went at it for a while. Talk about what they tried to do to scheme on you, and lot of bodies hitting the ground and very physical inside?
MATT HOWARD: Well, I wouldn't really expect anything else from an NCAA Tournament game. Yeah, it was really physical. And I thought it was called pretty consistent throughout the game.
You know, that's just what I expected. I wanted to come in and make sure I was as physical or more physical than they were.
Q. Butler had 11 turnovers in the first half, only 4 in the second half. What was the difference with adjusting or on not adjusting to LSU's length and speed in the first half that you guys managed to correct in the second half?
SHELVIN MACK: I just think we just settled down a little bit more. Made strong cuts and strong leads. And when the pass is coming to us, we came to the ball instead of waiting on it. That's big. That's a big adjustment we made.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions for Coach Stevens.
Q. I know Butler achieved a lot more than what a lot of people thought. But what, I guess, what kind of steps do you think that you maybe took even in this one game that would carry over into next season since you really accomplished a lot more than what so many people expected you to do with such a young team?
COACH STEVENS: Well, I would not include myself in that group of people. I have high expectations for everybody in this program. We expected to be really good. I thought that we tried to make that clear right from the git go our guys had a nice year. You know, I think of anything you take from this game, you no longer have this chance.
The chance is now gone, and, you know, nothing is guaranteed. You have to, you know, for us, we have to be terrific in the regular season. If we don't win our conference tournament, and we recognize that.
So you have to maximize every day. You have to play to the best of your ability every day, and maybe the thing that you take from this is if you know, just to continue to do that. I thought we played well. I thought we've played well all year. We just weren't quite good enough today.
I thought going into the game unusually for us, because we've held people down, I felt if we could hold them under 70, we'd win. We just didn't do that. You know, they scored it, and they found ways to score.
My hat's off to them. They did a nice job.