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SCOREBOARD

Reese's double-double, Johnson's scoring, lifts LSU over MTSU in NCAA Tournament's second round

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- — Angel Reese had 20 points and 11 rebounds and third-seeded LSU responded to a nine-point third-quarter deficit with a dominant finish to defeat upstart No. 11 seed Middle Tennessee 83-56 in the second round of the women's NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

Flau'Jae Johnson scored 21 for the Tigers (30-5) and played central role in helping LSU surge to a comfortable second-half lead that ended the Blue Raiders' 20-game winning streak.

The decisive victory came one day after LSU coach Kim Mulkey railed against the Washington Post -- and threatened potential legal action -- for what she described as an impending “hit piece” against her and promised that it would not derail her team’s preparation for NCAA Tournament games.

MTSU (30-5) led 41-32 and looked primed to widen the gap when Reese tripped over a fallen teammate on an attempted layup and crashed hard to the court, sending the Blue Raiders on a 5-on-4 fast break the other way.

But Jalynn Gregory’s open 3 bounced off the back rim to LSU guard Last-Tear Poa, who fired the ball down court, where Reese had just gotten to her feet and made an uncontested layup.

That play spawned a 10-0 run, fueled in part by Mikaylah Williams’ pull-up jumper in transition and her left corner 3, which put the Tigers back in front, 42-41.

Later in the quarter, Johnson forced a turnover by tying up MTSU's Ta'Mia Scott, followed that up with a 3, and later hit a bail-out, fall-away jumper as the shot clock expired.

LSU wound up outscoring Middle Tennessee 27-8 during the final 8:22 of the third quarter to take a 59-49 lead on Reese's layup and pulled away from there, going up by as many as 30 points.

MTSU 6-foot-6 starting center Anastasiia Boldyreva scored nine points and blocked three shots, but was challenged constantly by LSU's physical play in the paint and fouled out just before the end of third quarter. The Tigers turned the game into a rout after that.

Savannah Wheeler, the Conference USA Player of the Year, scored 21 and Scott scored 15 for Middle Tennessee, which lost for the first time since Dec. 30.

Aneesah Morrow scored 19 points and Williams added 16 for LSU, which jumped out to a 24-15 lead that got the Pete Maravich Assembly Center crowd roaring early.

In the second quarter, however, Middle Tennessee seemed unfazed by either the crowd or the Tigers' prowess in the paint.

LSU is rarely outrebounded, but the Blue Raiders managed more than once to steal rebounds from Reese and outrebound the Tigers 25-18 in the first half to take a 36-32 lead.

BIG PICTURE:

MTSU: The Blue Raiders gave LSU all it could handle for nearly 32 minutes, but lacked the depth to withstand the Tigers' relentless second-half surge. After Boldyreva fould out, MTSU was outscored 28-7 and fell to 0-5 all-time in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

LSU: LSU proved too much for MTSU inside, outscoring the Blue Raiders 30-18 in the paint. The Tigers also shot 41.7% (5 of 12) from 3-point range.

UP NEXT:

LSU heads to Albany, New York, for the Albany 2 Region semifinals. One more victory could potentially pit the Tigers against Iowa and NCAA all-time leading scorer Caitlin Clark in a rematch of last year's national title game.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness