LSU defeats San Francisco 71-63 in the first round of the NIT

It’s on to Dallas for LSU.

Behind a stellar first half from Jarell Martin and a defensive effort just sturdy enough, the fifth-seeded Tigers subdued No. 4 seed San Francisco in a 71-63 victory during the first round of the NIT on Wednesday night.

The Tigers (20-13) move on to face top-seeded SMU, which dispatched eighth-seeded UC-Irvine in their tournament opener, at 8 p.m. Monday.

Martin paced LSU with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Johnny O’Bryant III and Shavon Coleman each added 13 points for the Tigers, who shot 46.3 percent.

Yet the Tigers sewed up a second-round spot in just 78 seconds against the Dons (21-12) inside War Memorial Gymnasium.

Andre Stringer knocked down a pair of free throws after Matt Glover was whistled for a technical after swinging his elbow high on a rebound.

A minute later, Anthony Hickey knocked down a 3-pointer, followed by a steal from Tim Quarterman. The freshman point guard swished his own jumper from behind the arc to make it a 61-45 lead with 8:15 left, capping a 9-0 run to help LSU coast down the stretch.

The Tigers managed to stretch out a narrow 33-30 halftime lead with a 5-0 spurt early in the second half.

Jordan Mickey hammered down a one-handed dunk with roughly 14 minutes left, and Shavon Coleman splashed down a 3-pointer off an in-bounds play with 13:11 to play to push the lead out to the 49-40.

And the Dons, who shot just 41.5 percent, could never mount a push to cut the lead below six points the rest of the way.

LSU, a team that had struggled on the road defensively, did enough to take away the 3-point arc in limiting the Dons to 3-of-23 shooting from long range.

Forward Cole Dickerson scored 24 points on 10-of-20 shooting, but got little in the way of support from the Dons.

Yet the Tigers leaned on another freshman early in the first half.

Two days after declaring he was returning to Baton Rouge, Jarell Martin’s first half displayed the facets that may make him alluring to a NBA franchise.

The freshman, who had 14 points in the first half, flew in for a two-handed putback to start an early 9-0 run, and ended the spurt again with a dunk off an in-bounds play to put LSU up by seven points with 15:53 left in the first half.

Still, the Dons managed to contend with the Tigers on the backboards, grabbing seven offensive rebounds that they turned into eight points.

Meanwhile, the Tigers settled for jumpers, while San Francisco popped off a 6-0 spurt over roughly two minutes to pull within 13-12 on layup from Pinkins after he slipped to the rim with 8:53 left until the half.

Again, Martin answered with a salvo of his own, knocking down a jumper and then getting fouled on a putback for a three-point play that extend the Tigers lead back out to 18-12.

After a steal by Coleman, forward Shane Hammink flushed his own dunk to extend the margin to eight with 7:09 remaining until the break.

But LSU couldn’t find another gear to widen the margin.

Dickerson swished a 3-pointer, and then tallied a layup a minute later to keep the Dons within 22-17 at the 5:48 mark as the Tigers allowed another easy look at the rim.

And in the final minute, San Francisco cut the deficit to a lone possession twice, including a Dickerson 3-pointer at the top of the arc to trail 29-28 with 1:18 left until the break.