A trip to the Big Apple was on the line when LSU and Western Kentucky met on Tuesday night at the PMAC and when the final horn sounded it was the Tigers who punched their ticket for a trip to New York for Thanksgiving.
A 19-5 run in the final 4:41 eliminated a 55-52 WKU lead and secured Trent Johnson’s club a trip to Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals after a 71-60 win over the Hilltoppers (1-1).
“Well, that’s a good win for us. That’s a good basketball team we beat,” said Johnson. “Obviously they return the nucleus of a team that was a basket away from going to the NCAA tournament.”
LSU’s run that turned the game around was started by Dennis Harris, who knocked down a trey, and Bo Spencer added a layup. WKU’s A.J. Slaughter tied it at 57 but Spencer hit a three to give LSU a 60-57 lead with 2:46 remaining.
Following a WKU miss, Harris slammed one home for a five point lead and Spencer added another layup off a steal as the Tigers stretched their lead to seven with 1:12 left. From that point on LSU never looked back in running its record to 3-0 on the year.
“It was a hard fought game against a good basketball team,” said Western Kentucky head coach Ken McDonald. “We put ourselves in position to win the game, but didn’t finish it out the way we needed to finish it out. I thought LSU picked up their aggression level in the last 10 minutes and we didn’t respond well enough and execute in situations we needed to execute. That is the difference in the game.”
Spencer led LSU with 28 points and added seven rebounds and four assists. Storm Warren logged his third double-double in as many games with 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Tasmin Mitchell added 12 points and eight boards.
Harris chipped in nine points in his first career start, grabbed four rebounds and dished off four assists. The only other players to score for LSU were Garrett Green and Chris Bass with one point each.
“I’m just coming out ready to play and staying prepared,” Warren said. “I’m not underestimating anybody and just bringing my all to the floor. That’s how we all play.”
LSU led by as many as five points in the first half but WKU took a 30-29 lead into the locker room on Caden Dickerson’s three-pointer with one second left.
The Tigers could have had better control of the game at the intermission had it not been for Sergio Kerusch who pumped in 19 first half points but went for only in six in the final 20 minutes.
LSU hit 47.1 percent from the field on the night compared to 34.9 percent for WKU. The Tigers also had a 38-30 advantage on the boards for another solid defensive outing in a game where both Mitchell and Spencer had to go the distance.
“The tempo of the game went to our liking when they went to a zone,” Johnson said. “Obviously that enabled us to slow the thing down, and obviously with Tasmin (Mitchell) and Bo, we were able to put them into situations where they could play 40 minutes.
“We can’t get caught up in a situation on back-to-back nights with our limited roster and limited depth where we get caught running up and down, so more than anything outside of the defense, I think the tempo of the game was really to our advantage.”
LSU will now face No. 12 Connecticut on Wednesday, Nov. 25, and the Tigers couldn’t think of a better way to spend Thanksgiving.
“It’s a good win for us, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Thanksgiving than going to New York,” said Johnson.