The first-round National Invitation Tournament game Wednesday night between LSU and UL-Lafayette figured to be an emotionally charged one.
It certainly was that — and a lot more.
In an intense, physical contest, which included technical fouls on both head coaches with 12.4 seconds left and a mild skirmish after postgame handshakes, the Tigers and Ragin’ Cajuns went at it for a full 40 minutes before LSU emerged with an 84-76 win in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
LSU guard Daryl Edwards had two clutch steals in the game’s final 63 seconds and the Tigers sealed the win with a thunderous dunk by Brandon Sampson and nine free throws after UL-Lafayette crept within a point with 1:39 to play.
Third-seeded LSU (18-14) advanced to the second round, where the Tigers will face No. 2 Utah, a 69-59 winner over UC Davis, at 8 p.m. Monday in Salt Lake City. The game will be televised by ESPNU.
No. 6 seed UL-Lafayette, the Sun Belt Conference’s regular-season champion, finished the season 27-7.
In addition to a double-technical on Edwards and UL-Lafayette’s Johnathan Stove early in the third quarter, Tigers coach Will Wade and Cajuns coach Bob Marlin were each hit with technicals with 12.4 seconds left after Wade called a timeout.
After the final horn sounded, a minor scuffle ensued shortly after both players and coaches from both teams went through the traditional handshake line.
LSU forward Duop Reath scored a game-high 26 points to go with 11 rebounds and Sampson dropped in 18 points to power the Tigers’ offensive effort, while Skylar Mays added 11 off the bench.
UL-Lafayette was led by Baton Rouge natives Frank Bartley and Stove, who had 21 and 17 points, respectively. Marcus Stroman also had 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds for the Cajuns.
Emotions were running high a full 72 hours before the game started.
Marlin complained about having to play the game on LSU’s home floor — even though, he said, the Cajuns had a higher RPI, 10 more wins than the Tigers and a better "gym."
“We are about action, not talk here,” said Wade, who wouldn’t engage Marlin in a war of words in the two days leading up to the game.
It eventually spilled over onto the court early in the second half when Edwards and Stove were assessed a double-technical foul after exchanging words before and after a timeout.
UL-Lafayette looked inspired playing on the road when the Ragin’ Cajuns scored the first seven points of the contest. But LSU quickly got on track behind the play of Reath and Mays.
Reath had four early points, and Mays, who came off the bench for the first time this season, scored six quick points late in the first quarter when LSU took control by exploiting the middle of the UL-Lafayette defense.
Twenty-four of LSU’s first 26 points came in the paint and the Tigers went on to take a 28-12 advantage inside by halftime and wound up with a 46-28 edge for the game.
“Obviously, it was a good win,” Wade said. “I thought the difference was in the paint. We dominated in the paint. Duop was phenomenal with 26 and 11.”
A key point in the game came in the second quarter. LSU held a one-point lead when Tremont Waters picked up his second foul and took a seat on the bench with 9:26 to play in the half.
That’s when LSU surged in front. With their star point guard watching from the sideline, Mays led the way as the Tigers outscored the Ragin’ Cajuns 22-11 the rest of the quarter to take a 40-28 halftime advantage.
“Skylar changed the game when Tre got in foul trouble in the first half,” Wade said. “I thought he really changed the course of the game when he came in with his dunks and attacking the rim.”
UL-Lafayette rallied coming out of the locker room, however, and cut the deficit to three points, then made another big move in the fourth after trailing by eight entering the quarter.
The Cajuns cut LSU’s lead to 73-72 with 1:44 left before Waters hit two free throws with 1:16 to play and the Tigers pulled away.
“I said we should have been seeded higher and I believe that,” Marlin said. “I stand up for what I said before: we wanted a home game. We won 27 games this year, it took them two years to win 27 games.”
“It is what it is,” Wade said. “I take exception when people take shots at your program. Our guys take exception to that. … Our guys responded to their challenges leading up to the game.”