CHARLESTON, South Carolina - The LSU Tigers basketball team rallied from four down with 8:47 to play to score a 66-62 win over North Texas in the consolation round of the Shriners Children's Charleston Classic Friday here at TD Arena.
The win evens LSU's record in the classic at 1-1 and the season mark at 2-2. LSU will be trying to duplicate what it did in 2011 in the same event when it lost the first game and won the last two contests.
LSU and North Texas battled back and forth in a game that featured 22 lead changes and nine ties. North Texas had its biggest lead of five with 10:21 to go in the first half and LSU had two four-point advantages in the first 20 minutes.
The Mean Green was able to take a 52-48 advantage with 8:47 to play in the game when the Tigers called timeout.
LSU turned the ball over on the ensuing possession but a chance for North Texas to expand the lead was thwarted when Derek Fountain blocked the shot. It was Fountain who would eventually score on the other end to cut the margin to 52-50 and then after a UNT miss, Tyrell Ward missed a short jumper, got his own rebound and laid it in to tie the game at 52 with 7:40 to play.
The game went back and forth with two free throws giving UNT a 57-56 advantage with 4:31 left.
Fountain, who was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field, made a layup to give LSU the lead for good at 58-57 at the 4:09 mark. The Mean Green turned the ball over and then two free throws by Jordan Wright pushed the advantage for LSU to 60-57.
North Texas missed its next three attempts and Will Baker was fouled and made two free throws to push LSU up 62-57 with 1:41 to play. UNT would get two free throws with 1:06 left but Will Baker with a bucket and two free throws by Mike Williams III gave the Tigers a 66-59 advantage with 19 seconds to play.
Baker had 16 points and six boards on the afternoon while Fountain had 14 points and a team best seven rebounds. Wright had 12 points and six rebounds.
LSU, after losing for the first time in 19 games when shooting 50 percent or more on Thursday, started a new streak after shooting exactly 50 percent overall (24-of-48). The Tigers were 4-of-13 from distance and a good 14-of-18 at the free throw line. UNT shot 31.7 percent (19-of-60) overall and made 12-of-32 three-point attempts (37.5). The Mean Green was 12-of-12 at the free throw line.
North Texas out rebounded LSU, 34-33, with a 14-7 advantage on the offensive end. LSU had a 36-10 advantage in the paint and 17-10 in points off the 12 UNT turnovers. LSU turned it over 13 times.
The tournament will take Saturday off before resuming with the final four games of the schedule. Sunday's LSU game will be broadcast on the affiliates of the LSU Sports Radio Network (Eagle 98.1 FM the Guaranty Media flagship in Baton Rouge) with Colin Lacy and John Brady. The television broadcast will be on ESPN2.
Coach Matt McMahon had these comments on his postgame radio show:
On needing the win... "Oh, we needed it in the worst way. I was really proud of our players; I thought their response was terrific. We talked last night, we had about a 16-hour turnaround to find out what we're about as competitors and if we are going to be able to come together and build a team and I thought our guys really responded well. A key moment to me was when we went down five in the second half (40-35) and they had all the momentum and we could've splintered there, but I thought the leadership of our guys like Will Baker, Derek Fountain and Mwani Wilkinson kept everyone connected so we could find a way to win."
On the defensive improvement in the second half... "I thought the adjustment was we were overhelping in the first half, we wanted to force them to take some tougher twos and in the second half, we were able to do that. They go 7-of-28 from two-point range, just 25 percent, which enabled us to go 36-10 points in the paint. Clearly have to clean up some defensive rebounds on long rebounds, but all in all, when you hold a team to 7-of-31 in a half, you should have an opportunity to win the game."
On getting the ball inside to Will Baker... "We were trying to pound that ball in there. We were throwing it in there every time we could and I thought he responded well, but as you know, especially against the number one defense in the country over the last three years, they (North Texas) don't just let you throw it in there. It takes four other guys screening, delivering the ball, it takes Will moving without the ball to create those angles and I thought he was terrific tonight."
Will Baker Comments In the Media Room:
On continuing to battle throughout the game... "I just was trying to keep the guys composed. We've faced that in the past couple of games, close battles. We were just trying to stay composed and keep fighting and I think our resiliency was there today. Part of that is because we went through that adversity and know how to handle it and I think we are just going to keep getting better and better."
On the play of Derek Fountain... "Derek had an amazing game; we love it when he takes it to the basket and is in attack mode. I think that's when he is at his best, so we are just going to continue him to do that. He can have a big impact on the game when he does that."
On his play during the game... "I think the most important thing is my teammates trust me and they know that's one of my strengths, so for me my mindset it just to continue to attack and we took advantage of that."
The win puts LSU in the fifth-place game against the winner of the Wake Forest-Towson game later on Friday. That game is scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m. ET (2 p.m. Baton Rouge time).