After shooting a season-low 28.6 percent from the field and turning it over nine times, the Tigers (9-1) opened the second half with more energy on the defensive end and were looking to run.
It paid off as they scored the first 16 points of the half to overcome a 28-21 halftime deficit and the Cowboys (5-5) didn’t get on the board until the scoreboard read 13:24 left in the game.
Chris Johnson, who picked up his third foul at the 16:35 mark of the second half, scored five points during the spurt including the first basket on a pretty reverse layup, while Marcus Thornton and Bo Spencer added six and five points, respectively.
“He basically told us we needed to play with a little more intensity,” senior swingman Garrett Temple said of LSU head coach Trent Johnson’s halftime speech. “He told us we were playing sluggish and not to worry about it, just to come out and play like we know how to play. He said the team that was out there that is not how we play and just come out and play like the LSU Tigers have been playing the last nine games.”
LSU was up by as many as 11 points in the second half, but McNeese went on a 12-4 run and kept it close down the stretch with deadly outside shooting from Stephan Martin and Diego Kapelan.
The Cowboys got within 59-57 with 34.2 seconds left off Kapelan’s fifth three-pointer of the game and fourth of the half.
Temple knocked down the first of two free throws but missed the second with 27.3 left on the clock to push the lead to three, but Martin came through again for the Cowboys and knocked down a pair from the charity stripe to make it a 60-59 game with 18.7 seconds remaining.
Thornton and Tasmin Mitchell both went 1-for-2 at the line and Johnson swatted a shot away inside the paint to help lift the Tigers to their ninth win of the season.
LSU shot only 38.3 percent from the field and hit only 11-of-20 from the charity stripe. This marked the second straight outing that the Tigers failed to eclipse the 61-point mark, but they did what they had to do to pick up the win.
“The quick turnaround from playing a hard-fought, emotional game against Texas A&M, you have hangovers sometimes,” Temple said. “Fortunately, we won the game but you have to give credit to McNeese…We didn’t shoot the ball well but we fought, we scrapped and came back in the second half and was able to get the win.”
Thornton did it on both ends of the floor for LSU as he posted a double-double and led the team with 15 points and 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass.
His shot was not falling like it had been this season as he hit only 5-of-16 from the floor, so he helped his team the best way he knew how.
“I feel like if my shot isn’t falling down then I need to go to the offensive and defensive boards to do something else to contribute,” Thornton said. “I take rebounding very serious because that’s what wins games and championships.”
McNeese took an early 7-5 lead off a C.J. Collins three-pointer two minutes and 30 seconds into the game and the Cowboys never trailed for the remainder of the half.
McNeese head coach Dave Simmons got 15 points from Kapelan and 14 from Martin, while John Pichon added 10 and grabbed nine rebounds.
The Cowboys certainly made it interesting and played well, but could not match LSU's intensity coming out of the intermission.
“The story was at the beginning of the second half we just didn’t come out with the same energy LSU did and they made a run and then we fought back in the game,” Simmons said. “But when you look up at the end of the day and see we were 12-of-22 from the free throw line and lost the game by three points, that’s an eye sore right there.”
LSU had three players score in double figures as Johnson added 10 while Spencer chipped in 11 points. Mitchell posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Tigers return to action on Dec. 27 when Washington State travels to Baton Rouge for a 1 p.m. tipoff.
LSU outrebounded McNeese 42-33, but the Cowboys inside tandem of 6-foot-11, 300-pound center Kelon Penn, six-foot-six, 220-pound forward John Pichon and six-foot-seven, 195-pound forward P.J. Alawoya gave the Tigers some problems.
“We’re vulnerable in the post but I can’t fault their effort,” he said. “There’s certain things that I have to do a better job of giving them help.”
For the second straight game, Johnson and Mitchell were in foul trouble, so Johnson turned to his bench and the players responded by giving the Tigers a nice lift.
“We got major, major contributions from guys coming off the bench,” Johnson said. “Chris Bass was exceptional with the energy he brought. I though Alex Farrer was exceptional. Quintin (Thornton) was exceptional in the first half.”
“Those guys kept us within striking distance,” added Johnson. “Delwan (Graham) came in and had some nice stops and so did Storm (Warren). That’s a good win for us. McNeese is a good basketball team.”
No Messing Around
After playing only four minutes against Texas A&M, LSU senior guard Terry Martin did not dress out against McNeese. He scored a season-high 16 points against Grambling State on Dec. 13, but was held scoreless in his last two outings.
“I don’t expect guys to be happy about not playing, but I expect them to understand why they don’t play the minutes they want to play,” Johnson said. “I expect them to understand their role but all that being said they need to come back the next day and work hard and understand that this is a team that plays as a team and not as individuals.
“I’m not going to get into a situation where I start talking about playing time and things of that nature because I’m too sensitive to the kids in general,” added Johnson. “That’s what I told the group and Terry needs to understand that and identify his role with the team and move forward.”
When can Tiger fans expect to see Martin back on the floor?
“That all depends on his effort and his attitude in practice,” Johnson said.