BATON ROUGE – The LSU men’s basketball team was hoping it wouldn’t happen but the combination of a good start by an opponent and a sluggish 14-day layoff type of start by the Tigers made LSU’s sixth win of the year difficult at best.
But the Tigers powered back in the second half after being down as many as 13 seven minutes into the game to score a 70-66 win over the North Carolina Central Eagles (6-5) Tuesday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
After shooting 61.3 percent in the first half overall (19-31) and 50 percent from the arc (5-10), the Eagles were held to just 29.6 percent in the final 20 minutes (8-of-27) including 2-of-12 from the arc.
Antonio Blakeney made it back-to-back 20-point games for the second time this season and actually four straight games in the Assembly Center with 27 points with 18 coming in the second 20 minutes. Blakeney made 11-of-17 field goal attempts and 4-of-6 treys for the game. In the second half he was 7-of-9 from the arc with three treys.
Duop Reath hit 7-of-9 field goals to finish with 14 points while Brandon Sampson hit 5-of-10 for 13 points. Craig Victor II had 11 rebounds to go with eight points while Skylar Mays had four assists and Jalyn Patterson five at the point guard position.
Patrick Cole played just under 40 minutes for NCCU and nearly had a triple double of points, rebounds and assists with 19 points, 10 boards and nine assists. However he did have 10 turnovers, five in each half as the ball was in his hands the majority of the contest as the team’s playmaker. Cole was coming off his third MEAC Player of the Week honor entering the contest.
Dajuan Graf added 18 points and Will Ransom off the bench had 10.
LSU shot 43.2 percent from the floor in the opening half (16-of-37) and 13-of-28 in the second half (46.4%), but after shooting 2-of-12 from the arc in the first half, the Tigers collected on 5-of-9 attempts. Both teams finished 5-of-11 at the stripe.
NCCU was able to get off quickly against the Tigers and had its 13-point lead off an 9-0 run in which LSU missed three shots and had a turnover while the Eagles got three layups and a three pointer to go up 27-13 with 12:54 to go in the first half. The lead was 13 again with 7:46 to go in the half at 33-20 and 37-24. LSU was able to get the margin to seven at 43-36 on a layup by Mays as neither team scored in the final 1:36 of the half.
It would turn out to be the third time that LSU would rally to win when behind this year at the half and the 11th time in Coach Johnny Jones’ tenure that the Tigers have come from five or more points behind at the half to win.
The Tigers were down 52-47 at the 15:22 mark when Blakeney would score the next six points on two treys to give LSU a 53-52 lead at the 12:40 mark. After Cole’s layup was blocked by Reath on the next possession, Victor II got a running dunk and LSU led 55-52. The Eagles would come back to take two more one-point leads at 56-55 and 58-57 but Sampson off a steal would post a basket that gave LSU the lead at the 8:58 mark at 59-58.
After Will Ransom tied the game at 65-65 at the 4:37 mark, the Tigers would able to outscore the Eagles, 5-1 to clinch the win.
LSU had a 17-7 advantage in points off turnovers in the second half and 23-15 for the game.
The Tigers will play again on Saturday at 5 p.m. against Texas Southern in a game to be televised on the SEC Network and broadcast on the LSU Sports Radio Network (Eagle 98.1 FM).
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HEAD COACH JOHNNY JONES
“We knew coming in that we were going to have a formidable opponent tonight that would come out and play extremely well. These guys have played in some tough venues against some tough teams. They’ve fared well in those games, winning some and playing the other team close in others. We knew coming off of a 14-day layoff that we possibly wouldn't be as sharp and hitting on all cylinders. One of the things I talked to the guys about before the game was making sure we played with energy and effort. I thought if we could do that coming out of the gate it would help and everything else would have the ability to fall into place. I thought North Carolina Central did a great job of coming out and executing and making plays. They shot over 60 percent in the first half, but I thought our guys did a good job in the second half of playing with the effort that was needed. With a few minor adjustments at the defensive end of the floor we made it tough for them, holding them to 29 percent shooting in the second half. It's a good win for our team coming off a break, and I think these guys have a great chance of possibly making the NCAA Tournament and winning their league with the way that they play and the experience they can put out there.”
On playing better in the second half…
“I think energy is there. I think some of the opponents that we’re playing against come in and play at a certain level. Unfortunately their shots aren’t going down and we’re not making plays. That team hit some threes and they stretched us out, which allowed them to get some backdoor cuts on us. Some things we didn't defend great but we were able to adjust to what they were doing on the offensive end of the floor. We were able to put more pressure on the ball in the second half. We played with a little more length and got tighter on the ball. That made it tougher for them to execute plays because we were trying to take away some passing lanes.”
LSU Player Quotes
GUARD ANTONIO BLAKENEY
On the mentality going into the second half…
“To play defense. They were shooting the ball really well going into halftime they were shooting 61 percent. So coming out and playing some defense and really taking our offense to the next level. We held them to 29 percent shooting in the second half and that is when we started playing better.”
On his second half offensive performance…
“I was just trying to be aggressive, make great plays on the ball, draw plays out and try to knock the shot down.”
FORWARD DUOP REATH
On the early offensive game plan…
“That was the game plan to get boards inside the paint and develop a paint presence and get the guards open.”
GUARD BRANDON SAMPSON
On starting off slow in the first half…
“Some nights we have that energy and some nights we do not. We need to have energy on a consistent basis and focus ourselves on the defensive end.”
NC CENTRAL Head Coach Quotes
HEAD COACH LeVelle Moton
Opening Statement …
“It was a tale of two halves. We caught them rusty a little bit. I know they haven’t played in a while, so we kind of shocked them. We really executed in the first half; the ball movement, we were moving, got some clean looks. I just thought we got up 12 or 14, and I talked to our guys about staying disciplined and being mature and stop trying to hit home runs. We were trying to hit home runs, and it came back to bite us. We didn’t finish the half. I think we came into the half up seven, and I told Patrick (Cole) . . . It’s a process for him. He has to learn that he has to maintain his focus and play for the team at all times. I thought the technical (foul) was the turning point in the game, where he got into it one-on-one with (Antonio) Blakeney. You have to stay focused. He’s an older guy. Just let your play speak for itself; you just made a hellfire spin move. We didn’t finish the game down the stretch and we didn’t execute. That’s on me. I’ve just got to put our guys in better situations to finish games. We missed a couple of free throws, but we’ll come back and we’ll respond. I was proud of the fight.”
On the difficult aspects of playing against LSU …
“It’s always tough when you’re playing a high major because you know they are going to be bigger, faster and stronger in every position. They’ve got a different type of length than what we see on a day-to-day basis. It’s more difficult to finish at the rim, it’s more difficult to shoot over outstretched arms and so on and so forth. Hats off to Johnny (Jones); he does an outstanding job. He’s a coach that I have a ton of respect for. But make no mistake about it; we came here to win the game. We don’t subscribe to moral victories or anything like that. We came here to win the game, and we’re disappointed that we didn’t.”