LSU Breaks Through Maryland’s Zone Defense to Reach Sweet 16

In order for LSU to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2006, they first had to solve the riddle of a pesky Maryland zone.

The Tigers did and it was just in the nick of time.

Tremont Waters scored the game-winning layup with 1.6 second as LSU edged Maryland 69-67 in an NCAA Tournament round of 32 matchup from Jacksonville, Florida.

In the two possessions prior to Waters’ heroic basket, Skylar Mars gave LSU a three-point lead on a 3-pointer, only for Maryland to tie the game on a 3-pointer by Jalen Smith with 28 seconds to go.

It was pure pandemonium for LSU’s Cardiac Kids. The Tigers have played in seven overtime games (5-2) and won four games by three points or less this season.

This victory was the sweetest of them all, pun intended.

“Little Tre was on the bottom of the pile, but I was still standing up,” Darius Days said to The Advocate. “That was the first one I’ve ever been around on a basketball court. I was like, ‘Yay, yay,’ but I wasn’t getting on that ground.”

LSU defeated Yale 79-74 in the round of 64. LSU will face Michigan State on Friday (6:09 p.m.) in Washington D.C. for the right to advance to the Elite Eight.

Michigan State defeated Bradley 76-65 and Minnesota 70-50 to reach the Sweet Sixteen.

This is the first NCAA Tournament meeting between the schools since Michigan State defeated LSU 87-71 in the 1979 Sweet Sixteen.

LSU had a 15-point advantage prior to Maryland switching to a 3-2 zone defense with 11:16 remaining. The change resulted in Maryland storming back to take a two-point lead with six minutes left.

LSU interim coach Tony Benford praised Maryland coach Mark Turgeon for the strategy.

“Mark made a great adjustment,” Benford said to The Advocate. “We knew they were going to run the 3-2, and we had worked on it. But when you don’t have but one day to prepare, it’s tough.”

During the initial span LSU shot 1-of-9 and eventually 5-of-18 from the floor.

“You’ve got to make shots,” Benford said to The Advocate. “At the end of the day, I don’t care what kind of zone it is … You’ve got to make shots.”

Benford touted assistant coach Bill Armstrong, who scouted Maryland leading up to the game, for ensuring that LSU would be prepared for the tactic.

Ultimately, LSU found quality looks and converted clutch baskets down the stretch.

“We talked about it before the game, ‘I don’t care if it’s man or zone or 3-2, we want to attack the paint,’ ” Benford said to The Advocate. “I thought we got away from it. Our movement wasn’t very good. We called a couple plays out of the timeout and scored, but then I thought sometimes we settled too much. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to make shots and we made the big one at the end.”

The game-winning score by Waters was a result of a screen from Naz Reid on Maryland’s Darryl Morsell.

LSU assistant coach Greg Heiar pointed out that Maryland utilized the 3-2 zone for just 30 possessions all season. If Michigan State tries to stymie LSU with a similar approach on Friday, there’s certainly a game plan ready now.

“It was open all game against the 3-2 zone,” Heiar said to The Advocate. “The middle was wide open.”