HAMMOND – The LSU women’s basketball team drove east to Hammond Friday night to face Southeastern Louisiana, bringing Kim Mulkey on a triumphant return home.
But it did so in the conspicuous, unexplained absence of All-American forward Angel Reese.
Mulkey hinted that No. 7 LSU wouldn’t have Reese to throw at the Lions in a fast, physical game that it won 73-50. On Tuesday, she declined to explain why Reese sat on the bench for the entire second half against Kent State. And on Thursday, she was asked if her star forward would play against Southeastern.
“You’d better get a ticket and see,” Mulkey said.
The fans who followed her instructions saw the Tigers ratchet up their defensive intensity to close the first quarter, giving their offense a chance to break out of a sloppy, turnover-plagued start to the game. LSU had a 10-point lead by the end of the first. From there, it kept Southeastern at arm’s length and widened its lead in the third quarter.
Halfway through the first quarter, LSU led by only three points after committing three turnovers and conceding the Lions a pair of open 3-pointers. But after a timeout, the Tigers refocused and then forced Southeastern into five turnovers on its next six possessions.
On the other end, Flau’jae Johnson drained a 3-pointer from the left wing, Last-Tear Poa converted four free throws, and LSU seized control of the game, entering halftime with a nine-point lead it didn’t relinquish.
Johnson provided a spark off the bench. Her first 3-pointer, which she punctuated by mouthing to the crowd, helped LSU first increase its lead. And her start to the second half, in which she immediately grabbed an offensive rebound, converted a layup and nabbed a steal, helped the Tigers stay in front.
The sophomore guard finished her night with a game-high 17 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and four steals on 8-of-12 shooting. LSU received most of its scoring from her and freshman Mikaylah Williams, who didn’t shoot nearly as well as she did against Kent State.
But she still added 13 points on 3-of-9 shooting. After hitting a turnaround jumper from the paint, Williams snapped a mini shooting slump, clapping her hands and looking up at the ceiling in relief.
And although transfer forward Aneesah Morrow, who started in place of Reese, had a rough shooting night, she still teamed up with Sa’Myah Smith inside to snag important rebounds. The frontcourt duo combined to corral 20 boards, 11 of which were on the offensive glass.
Overall, LSU was sharp on the defensive end. Southeastern committed XX turnovers, shot 37.7% from the field and, crucially, attempted only nine free throws. The Tigers outrebounded the Lions by 15 and made 11 more trips to the foul line.
Friday night marked the second time Mulkey brought one of her teams back to her hometown to play Southeastern. Early in the 2002 season, her Baylor squad faced the Lions and won 70-55. Southeastern announced that the game against LSU was sold out.
Next, LSU will return home to face Texas Southern on Monday at 7 p.m. before it leaves town again to face Niagara and Virginia in the Cayman Islands Classic on Friday and Saturday.