Tigers land #3 seed, will face Yale NCAA Opener

LSU Athletic Creative Services
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SEC Champions and third-seeded LSU will face Ivy League Champions and No. 14 seed Yale (22-7) on Thursday at 11:40 a.m. CT in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament held in Jacksonville's VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, it was announced on Selection Sunday.

The winner advances to face either No. 6 seed Maryland or the winner of the opening-round game between Belmont and Temple in the third round of the 68-team tournament on Saturday.

LSU's opening game will be televised by Tru TV. Chris Blair and John Brady will have the call of LSU's games on the LSU Sports Radio Network, streaming free on www.LSUsports.net/live.

LSU (26-6) won the 2019 Southeastern Conference Regular-Season Championship -- its first since 2009 -- with a 16-2 record. The Tigers earned a berth into the "Big Dance" for the 22nd time in program history and the first since 2015. LSU, which has a 24-24 record in tournament play, has reached the Final Four four times in school history, 1953, 1981, 1986 and 2006.

The Tigers will be returning to the site of the first two rounds of the 2006 NCAA Championship when LSU defeated Iona and Texas A&M en route to the NCAA Final Four.

Coach Tony Benford met with the media on Sunday night after the selection and here were some of his comments:

Opening statement…
“First of all, we’re extremely excited to play in the NCAA Tournament. We just had a private get together. Once our name flashed up, our guys were extremely excited. The hard work that they’ve put in from day one, going back to the summer when everybody arrived in June, to all the adversity that they’ve gone through and now having the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament. We only have one player on our team who’s played in the tournament, that’s Kavell Bigby-Williams when he was at Oregon. Those guys are excited about the opportunity and we’re looking forward to playing Yale on Thursday. It’s a quality Yale team that’s well-coached. I’ve known coach James Jones for a while. He does a great job with his guys. They’ll be a huge challenge for us.”

On what he sees in Yale…
“The obviously won the Ivy League. They’ve had a lot of success – two years ago they beat Baylor in the NCAA Tournament. Coach Jones does a good. Job. They’ve recruited well there. He has one kid, (No. 25 Miye Oni), he’s a NBA prospect about 6-6, scoring wing who’s a really good player. They have four guys, I think, averaging double figures. Another kid that averages almost nine a game. They play up-tempo. They really push the ball. They really want to get in the open court and they do a really good job. I haven’t had a chance to watch film. I watched a little of their game briefly today when they played Harvard. We’re going to break them down. Coach (Greg) Heiar is already watching film on them. We’re on top of them right now.”

On if he knows where Coach Will Wade watched the selection show…
“Coach was at home with his family. I talked to him briefly after the show ended. He’s very familiar with them, obviously being in the Ivy League at Harvard. He’s very familiar with coach Jones and the way they play and the style of play. He just said that they’re well coached and they play pretty fast and it will be a good matchup for us.”

On watching the Yale vs. Harvard game earlier today…
“I just watched the game briefly. I didn’t watch much of it. I knew that they’re talented because Harvard’s talented. Harvard has two guys that are possibly NBA guys. They (Harvard) have a guy go for 38, a really good guard. Anyways, Yale is a quality team, winning the Ivy League. Those guys are talented and they play hard. The one thing that I think helps us is, you look at our non-conference schedule, it prepared us for our conference schedule. Playing Florida State in Orlando at the neutral site, playing Oklahoma State there prepared us for what we would be facing at Houston and against Saint Mary’s. We played different styles in non-conference and then we played teams with different styles in conference play. It really helps you, playing in the SEC, prepare for any type of style of play that you’ll come up against.”

On Yale’s style of play…
“They’re a veteran team. They are a very experienced team. Sometimes it’s tough to change the way you want to play. They may make an adjustment. If you’re averaging over 80 points a game it’s tough to tell your kid, ‘hey let’s keep it in the 60s.’ That’s pretty tough. We’ll be prepare for whichever way they want to play. We’re focused on us. Tomorrow we’ll practice. We’ll get the kids prepared, we’ll scout Yale and we’ll have our guys prepared for them on Thursday.”

On the team’s performance in the SEC Tournament against Florida…
“I thought our scouting report really carried over into the game. We wanted to attack the paint. We talk about or game standards, that’s getting 50 paint touches. We were above that. We scored about 20 points more (than Florida) in the paint. Naz (Reid) was dominant. We wanted to play through Naz. We had the same game plan. I thought we did a great job defensively in the first half. I thought defensively in the second half we were not as sharp as we needed to be defensively. We had some careless turnovers when they made their run. I thought down the stretch they made some plays and really did a good job executing. I thought we executed well down the stretch. Unfortunately, there was a call that was made that I got a technical. I have to keep my poise better there when I got the technical, but moving forward we still had a chance to win the game. We made a play. We went to our diamond press and made a play. They hit a big shot at the end. Those games against Florida have always been – as you guys know the two overtime games. We have some guys that can play better … They can play better than they did the other day and they understand that. I think they’re excited. We’re 0-0 now. It’s win or go home. There’s no more tomorrow. Our guys understand we need to leave it all out there.”

On having a week off heading into the game…
“I think it helps us to have a narrow focus. I’m not paying attention much to who we play in the second round. We are just going to focus on Yale and focus on us. We are going to talk about some of the things that we have to do better defensively. We have to do a better job of containing the basketball. We have to finish our possessions with rebounds and make sure that we box out. We have to continue to focus on the fundamental things. Offensively, we can score the basketball but we just have to make some shots. We had some great looks in the Florida game as we did a great job in attacking the paint but our shots did not fall. We had some great opportunities from the three-point line so we just have to keep on getting our shots and hope they go in this time.”

On the team’s reaction to earning the number three seed instead of potentially being a two…
“I think if we had won both the Florida and Auburn to advance to the championship, we may have gotten to the two-line. But the way things played out, we saw the way that Auburn finished today and earned the five seed. Right now, though, we are comfortable where we are at as the three seed.”

On getting the team back to a sense of normality heading into the tournament…
“I think now it is time to hit the reset button. We gave the guys a day off both yesterday and today. I just talked briefly when we came back that it is a brand-new season and we are 0-0 just like everybody else in the country. We are going to be focused on getting better, starting tomorrow and we will get prepared for Yale. That is the goal to get ready for Yale and take it one step at a time. If we get fortunate enough to win this, we will get ready for the next opponent. Our guys are really excited as they have not been able to experience an NCAA Tournament yet. I have been lucky enough to experience it as both a player and coach. All of our other assistant coaches have as well. Kavell (Bigby-Williams) is the only player who has NCAA Tournament experience from his time at Oregon, so our guys are excited to be able to represent the University in the NCAA Tournament.”

On the team mood after learning their NCAA Tournament fate…
“All of them are very excited. Some of them were very laid back and relaxed but when they saw LSU pop up on the screen, they immediately became excited. Those guys are ready to go. They are ready to play and they are all very excited.”

On what it means to have seven SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament…
“It is a quality league. I do not think I have been in a league quite like this since I was in the old Big East where we had 11 teams from that league qualify for the tournament. We had a lot of quality players and coaches in that league and this is very similar. It is a really deep league as you have quality coaches and players, different styles of basketball and different styles of play. It definitely prepares you as all the teams in this league will be prepared for the NCAA Tournament, I do not think there is any doubt about that. Whoever we are playing, I believe the SEC will be represented well because of the quality overall that is in this league.”

On preparing for the unpredictability of the NCAA Tournament…
“What you try to explain to them is that we are not going be in a routine too much, as far as our preparation goes. We have to really narrow our focus more as it is win or go home. The main thing is that it will be light on their legs, and heavy on their mind as far as absorbing the scouting report, making sure that we execute in our scout team, and making sure they simulate what we are going to see in a game. We will go back to working on our offensive and defensive execution, rebounding and all of the fundamental things that we have to do to prepare for Yale. We need to make sure our guys are ready to go and understand what they have to do.”