JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Skylar Mays hit four free throws in the final 15 seconds to help embattled LSU slip past 14th-seeded Yale 79-74 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
Mays scored 19 points but sealed the game from the charity stripe, and the Tigers (27-6) needed each one of his free throws.
Yale (22-8) hit four 3-pointers in the final minute and whittled an 18-point deficit to three in the closing seconds. Most of those on hand at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena started cheering for the underdog Bulldogs.
With the lead on the line, Mays calmly stepped to the line and sank all his free throws.
Mays was one of four Tigers in double figures. Tremont Waters finished with 15 points, but had just two after the break. He was 0 for 7 from the field in the final 20 minutes after dominating the first half with 13 points and six assists.
Naz Reid had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Kavell Bigby-Williams also had a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards.
LSU moves on without coach Will Wade, who is suspended for his role in an alleged cheating scandal. University officials won’t allow Wade to resume his duties unless he speaks with the school about an FBI wiretap that resulted in his suspension. Tony Benford continued in his role as interim coach.
Javonte Smart, whose name surfaced in reports of a wiretapped phone call that resulted in Wade’s suspension, had nine points and six rebounds. School officials say Smart has fully cooperated in a “joint inquiry” with LSU and the NCAA.
Alex Copeland led Yale with 24 points. He had 16 points in the second half and hit two of the huge 3s in the final minute to make it close.
Jordan Bruner added 16, and Azar Swain finished with 12. Leading scorer Miye Oni was 2 of 16 shooting, including 1 of 10 from 3-point range, and had five points.
Yale: The last Ivy League champion to win the NCAA Tournament, Yale failed to pull another first-round upset. The Bulldogs knocked off Baylor in 2016 and then gave Duke a scare in the second round, whittling a 27-point deficit down to three in the final minute. Copeland, Trey Phills, Blake Reynolds and Thomas Ryans were freshmen on that team, although they did little to get Yale into the tourney. They hoped to create their own tournament legacy against the Tigers, but came up short.
LSU: The Tigers have enough talent inside and out to play with — and beat — anyone in the country. They tend to struggle against teams that slow the tempo, but Yale wanted a fast-paced game, which played right into LSU’s wheelhouse.
Yale has to replace three key starters — Copeland, Phills and Reynolds — before next season.
LSU advances to the second round for the second time in five years and will face the Belmont-Maryland winner Saturday.