In the first round of the Cayman Islands Classic tournament, LSU picked up where it left off last Thursday against New Orleans, dominating Illinois State through most of the game on its way to a 77-61 victory.
It wasn’t a perfect game, as the Tigers allowed the Redbirds to outscore them by double digits in the second half, but a 27-point lead put together by the end of the first half allowed them to remain comfortable despite that.
After surrendering a 3-2 lead to Illinois State early, LSU allowed the Redbirds to lead for just a single minute before never trailing again. It responded with runs of 13-0 and 19-2 to get out to a 21-5 lead early on, then outscored the Redbirds 27-13 from that point on to enter the second half leading 45-18.
The key to the first half was proficiency on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, the Tigers took advantage of Illinois State’s weaker front court, scoring 22 of its 45 first-half points from inside the paint. That aggressiveness also led to more drawn fouls and more free throws, as they added 11 from the stripe on 73% shooting.
A big part of LSU’s dominance in the paint was KJ Williams, who put up a total of 33 points, 22 of which came in the first period alone. It’s likely he would have finished with more had he not gotten into foul trouble in the second half.
The Murray State transfer shot 68.4% from the field and contributed eight rebounds (three offensive), three assists, two steals and a block, affecting both sides of the ball while getting his teammates involved as well.
Defensively, LSU allowed its opponents to make one three early in the first half before forcing twelve straight misses from beyond the arc to close it out. It effectively shut down the Redbird offense through the entire period while rarely overstepping, keeping fouls down and holding them to about 26% shooting from the field.
It did get complacent in the second half, allowing Illinois State to get into a groove from three and finish the period with 43 points, but McMahon didn’t let that bog down what he saw as an impressive win for his players.
“Everyone’s frustrated and disappointed, but we’re up 27 at the half and you win a game, and that’s the goal,” McMahon told reporters after the game. “We can clean up the turnovers and some of the poor execution in the second half. You’re not going to win every game by 50 points.”
It will face off against the winner of Akron vs. Western Kentucky tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. CT.