Cal State Fullerton (3-5) scored the first five points of the second half to cut it to six points, but the Tigers ran off seven straight and were never in danger of falling behind again as they improved to 6-0 on the season.
“Since I’ve been here we haven’t been 6-0,” said Garrett Temple. “The schedule might be a little different, but coach scheduled it like this to progress every game. This was our hardest test up to this point and I think we passed it.”
The Tigers passed the test in many aspects.
LSU had a 56-27 advantage on the boards and had 20 on the offensive glass, including 15 in the first half.
Tasmin Mitchell had a career-high 15 rebounds and he chipped in 16 points and blocked three shots for his best all-around performance of the year.
“That was my main goal,” Mitchell said of crashing the boards. “The last few games I hadn’t been getting that many rebounds, so I told myself I was going to go out there and try to get everything that came off the rim.”
Marcus Thornton led the Tigers in scoring for the fourth game in a row with 24 points and he pulled down eight boards. Chris Johnson nearly had a double-double with 16 points and nine rebounds, and Bo Spencer pumped in 13 points with his two big three-pointers late in the first half.
The Tigers and Titans traded the lead for the first four minutes of the game until LSU went up 11-9 on a Marcus Thornton trey at the 16:24 mark and they never trailed again.
Cal State Fullerton pulled to within two at 28-26 with 6:17 left, but the Tigers then closed out the half with a 14-5 run off a pair of baskets by Johnson and two inside buckets from Mitchell and Thornton.
The back-to-back three’s from Spencer to end the half gave the Tigers their 42-31 lead at the break.
Josh Akognon kept Cal State Fullerton in the game until midway through the second half and finished with 23 points. His quick release allowed him to pull up and shoot at anytime, but the Tigers did a good job of containing him and the rest of the Titans as they hit only 36.8 percent from the floor.
“Overall, I think we played really good team defense,” said Mitchell. “That’s what wins championships is defense. I know we haven’t won a championship yet, but we’re on our way to one I think. We played great team defense and we rebounded.”
Johnson will not want to hear any talk of championships, but he did agree with Mitchell about the team’s effort on the defensive end of the floor.
“I’m a firm believer and I’ve been around this for a long time that if you defend and rebound with a sense of urgency then you’re going to have an opportunity to be in your share of games, and to win your share of games,” said Johnson.
The Titans actually cut the LSU lead to six by scoring the first five points of the second half, but LSU responded with five of their own.
Cal State Fullerton’s fast-paced tempo caused some problems for the Tigers as they turned it over 19 times, but LSU did a good job of getting back and maintaining the intensity on the defensive end.
“Coach harped on it at halftime that these guys weren’t going to lay down and give it to us,” said Temple, who finished with eight points, seven assists and 10 rebounds. “They got a guy that can put up baskets quick, so we knew the game wasn’t over even if we got up 12 or 14 with four or five minutes left. We put it in our heads to keep pushing them and to put it down and not let them score anymore.”
LSU kept the pressure on even when it went under five minutes and the lead stretched to 24 with a late 17-6 run.
“We wore them down, but I think we wore them down because we exerted energy defensively and we didn’t break down defensively in the second half,” said Johnson.
Cal State Fullerton gave the Tigers a good test despite what the scoreboard read and it was exactly what Johnson was looking for heading into the 11-day break for final exams.
“This was a good game for us from the standpoint of I thought this team was going to test our reserve and test our veterans,” Johnson said. “We did a nice job. We did a nice job.”