LSU’s trip to Jamaica was highlighted by ups and downs. The Tigers led No. 15 Utah State (6-0) by 19 points at halftime but let the lead slip away, falling 80-78 in regulation on Friday.
LSU (4-2) bounced back with a 96-83 win over Rhode Island (4-2) on Sunday. Sophomore forward Emmitt Williams led all players with 27 points against the Rams. Williams shot 12-of-17 and collected nine rebounds.
The 27 points were a career-high for the former five-star recruit. Sophomore forward Darius Days and freshman forward Trendon Watford also chipped in 16 points each.
The Tigers limited turnovers against Rhode Island, only giving the ball up 11 times after being near the top of the nation in turnovers per game (20.5) entering the Jamaica Classic.
LSU led the Rams 43-39 at the end of the first half with Williams and Days combining for 25 points. The strong start carried over to the second half, and LSU pulled away behind Williams’ 14 points and senior guard Skylar Mays’ 12 points in the final 20 minutes.
While the win over Rhode Island is a nice one for the Tigers, the main takeaway from the weekend will be the second half collapse against Utah State.
LSU coach Will Wade said Utah State could find itself in the Final Four, calling the Aggies a top-10 team before the Jamaica Classic. Utah State reached the NCAA tournament as an eight seed last season and returned leading scorer Sam Merrill.
Merrill was too much for the Tigers to handle down the stretch, scoring 17 points in the second half and the game-winning three-point shot with less than a minute to go. Mays tried to match Merrill and scored 18 of LSU’s final 26 points.
Mays finished with 30 points, a career-high, and joins former Tigers Tremont Waters (36-Jan. 20, 2019) and Duop Reath (31-Jan. 20, 2018) as recent players to hit that mark.
Despite Mays’ offensive output, LSU turned the ball over 11 times in the second half against Utah State. LSU led 44-30 and only committed five turnovers in the first half.
The lead climbed to 54-35 after a Mays’ three-pointer with 16:32 remaining in the second half. Utah State went on a 20 to eight run, cutting LSU’s lead to five, but the Tigers punched back with a run of its own to extend its lead back to 69-57 with less than eight minutes to go.
LSU failed to finish off Utah State and let an early marquee win slip through its fingers.
The Tigers return to Baton Rouge for a four-game home stand against Missouri State (Nov. 29), UNO (Dec. 3), Northwestern State (Dec. 8) and East Tennessee State (Dec. 18) before traveling to Los Angeles for a game against USC on Dec. 21.