BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Cameron Thomas led LSU with 27 points and three Tigers tallied double doubles, as the Tigers defeated St. Bonaventure, 76-61, in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Saturday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on the Indiana University campus.
LSU reserve forward Aundre Hyatt had a career afternoon, scoring 13 points with 10 rebounds, while forwards Darius Days (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Trendon Watford (11 points, 11 rebounds) each completed double doubles. Despite a cold start offensively, the Tigers dominated the boards (49-30) to build a nine-point halftime lead and pull away in the second half.
Thomas made 11-of-13 free throws - one make short of the Shaquille O'Neal's program record for an NCAA Tournament game - and added four rebounds and three assists in 39 minutes of action. The All-SEC freshman guard didn't score in the first 11 minutes of the game before scoring 27 points in the final 29 minutes. His 13 free-throw attempts tied Glen Davis' tournament record by a Tiger set against Duke in the 2006 Sweet 16.
"Three guys with double-doubles, Aundre Hyatt was phenomenal, four blocks, 13 (points) and 10 (rebounds), seven offensive rebounds," said LSU Head Coach Will Wade, who earned his first NCAA Tournament victory with the Tigers. "I thought he was just tremendous. Trendon (Watford) and (Darius) Days did what they do and obviously Cam (Thomas) was phenomenal getting to the free-throw line and attacking and making plays. So it was a total team effort."
No. 8-seeded LSU overcame a 1-of-10 start to finish 25-of-62 shooting from the field. The margin of victory was the Tigers' fourth-largest in its NCAA Tournament history and its largest since a 16-point win over Iona on its way to the 2006 Final Four.
"Aundre Hyatt played great," Thomas said. "Dre was on the glass, defensive glass in the first half. And he hit big shots when we needed him to. I think he hit one three at the top of the key because a big was sitting in the paint and a lot of offensive rebound put-backs. That's what helped us. We're going to need Dre to make a deep run in the tournament, so I felt like this was a great starting point for him.
No. 9-seeded St. Bonaventure, which had only one point from its bench, was led by Jaren Holmes with 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Osun Osunniyi, who was contained by LSU, scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting with a team-high nine rebounds. Bonnies leading scorer (14.6 ppg.) Kyle Lofton missed his first eight shots and finished 3-of-18 shooting for 10 points.
"I'm a big advocate for the first four minutes of the second half are really, really important, and I thought that they came out and had two three-point plays, one three-pointer and one and-one," St. Bonaventure Head Coach Mark Schmidt said. "But I thought our guys fought. They beat us -- I thought defensively we didn't do a terrible job. We fouled Thomas a little bit too many times, and then we got out-rebounded. That's one of our strengths. We got out-rebounded by 19, second-chance points by 10. So that was a big difference."
Survive and Advance. What's Next?
LSU (19-9), making its 23rd appearance in the NCAA Tournament, improved to 27-25 all-time in the Big Dance. The Tigers have played in consecutive tournaments (2019, 2021) for the first time since 2005-06. With another tournament victory, LSU would reach consecutive Sweet 16s.
On Monday, the Tigers will face No. 1-seed Michigan, which defeated No. 16-seed Texas Southern, 82-66.
The Tigers and Wolverines have met three times on the hardwood (LSU is 1-2), most recently a 77-75 LSU victory over the eventual national runners-up in Maui on Nov., 20, 2017.
Game times and television networks for Monday's second-round contests will be announced late Saturday evening or early Sunday morning. Coverage on the LSU Sports Radio Network -- including flagship Eagle 98.1 FM in Baton Rouge -- will begin 30 minutes prior to tipoff.
St. Bonaventure's season came to an end with an overall record of 16-5. The Bonnies, who were 12-0 this season when out-rebounding their opponent, were dominated on the glass by LSU and made only 21-of-63 from the field including 3-of-20 from three-point range.
Cold shooting defined the first eight minutes, as the teams were tied at 4-4 at the second media timeout (11:51) following 3-of-24 combined shooting to open the game.
As LSU thawed offensively for the remainder of the half, the Tigers went on a 9-2 run that started with a Darius Days three pointer and resulted in a 21-12 lead at the 5:28 mark.
St. Bonaventure continued to struggle from the field (4 of 24 including 0 of 8 from three-point range), but the Bonnies made 8-of-9 free throws in the half to get within double digits of the Tigers in the final minutes of the half.
Smart's jumper in the paint with 32 seconds to play along with a solid defensive effort on the Bonnies' final possession gave LSU its 31-22 halftime lead.
LSU was 10-of-28 (35.7 percent) from the field and 8-of-10 from the line, while St. Bonaventure was held to 7-of-30 shooting (23.3 percent) -- 0 of 10 from three-point range -- in the opening 20 minutes.
The Tigers, who were held to four points in the first nine minutes, scored 27 in the final 11 minutes of the first half.
LSU came out of the locker room on fire, as Days made a three pointer, and Thomas converted a three-point play moments later. Three free throws by Watford and Thomas gave LSU a 40-24 lead less than three minutes into the half.
The Bonnies managed to cut the LSU advantage to nine, 48-39, with 13:19 to play, but Watford answered with a three-point play and LSU maintained a double-figure lead for the duration.