The LSU Tigers might have been the most popular 3-versus-14 upset pick in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, with head coach Will Wade under suspension and an uncertain group of players coming off a quarterfinal loss in the SEC Tournament.
Assistant coach and interim head coach Tony Benford faced a significant task on Thursday against the Yale Bulldogs. He and his team passed that test, as Benford tries to do what Steve Fisher did at Michigan 30 years ago in 1989: Become an interim head coach of a team just before the NCAA Tournament and then win six March Madness games to claim a national title.
One down, five to go. LSU bothered Yale enough to win by five points, 79-74, and move to the second round to face the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville. The game is the first one of the day at 12:10 p.m. Eastern time on CBS.
Benford had plenty to say about a specific theme after LSU survived Yale:
“I don’t know if we were pointing fingers at one another, we had some defensive breakdowns and I think guys were challenging their teammates,” Benford said. “We talk about that, taking ownership and keeping one another accountable. We tried to do that, but I think they were able to regroup through all that and through adversity to make some free throws.”
LSU did indeed lock this game down at the foul line in the final minutes. Twice, LSU players were purposefully fouled by Yale players and were inadvertently poked in the eye. On each of those two fouls, the LSU player involved was able to hit both foul shots. That kind of consistency, even with poked eyes, reflected LSU’s ability to stand tall at the foul line and fend off the Ivy League champion.
LSU was accountable at the charity stripe, and that has been known to win many March games.
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