ATLANTA (AP) — Tari Eason didn’t panic when No. 25 Louisiana State trailed throughout the first half against Georgia Tech on Saturday night.
Eason knows the Tigers are at their best after halftime.
He scored a career-high 23 points to help LSU recover from a 15-point first-half deficit, beating the Yellow Jackets 69-53 and remaining undefeated.
“We started off slow in the first half but we’re a second-half team and knew we’re a second-half team,” Eason said. “During halftime we just kind of locked in and told ourselves our worst half is behind us and put our best foot forward, and that’s what we did in the second half.”
The Tigers outscored the Yellow Jackets 39-19 after the break.
Xavier Pinson had 13 points and Brandon Murray added 10 points for LSU (9-0).
The cold-shooting Tigers trailed 24-9 at one point — their first deficit of the season that was more than 10 points. But they surged late in the first half and pulled even at 40-40 early in the second half.
Eric Gaines made two free throws to give LSU the lead, and he followed with a steal and basket.
“The first, really, 14 minutes I thought they were the aggressor and we were on our heels,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “The last six minutes of the first half and the second half we were aggressive and put them on their heels and that totally changed the game.”
Georgia Tech (5-4) never regained momentum in its third consecutive loss. Jordan Usher led Georgia Tech with 15 points. Yellow Jackets guard Michael Devoe, who entered the game leading the nation with his average of 23.6 points per game, had 12 points.
Devoe and his teammates were contained by LSU’s stingy, nation-leading field-goal defense (33.1%). The Yellow Jackets committed a season-high 24 turnovers, leading to 30 points for the Tigers.
“I’ve got to figure out a way to put us in a position to not turn the ball over because it’s been biting us in the butt,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said.
Usher committed six turnovers, and Devoe had five. He said his turnovers “came from careless mistakes.”
“I feel like I had a bad game as far as being a leader out there and putting guys in the right position and stuff,” Devoe said. “... I know I had a lot individually. I take a lot of blame for that game.”
Pastner interrupted Devoe, saying, “That falls on me, not any of the players. I’ve got to do a better job of figuring this out.”
The Tigers were playing their first game since a 66-51 win over Ohio on Dec. 1. The 10 days away from competition showed, as LSU struggled with its shooting most of the first half.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets passed their previous season-high of 16 turnovers only five minutes into the second half. Their inability to stop the miscues was too much to overcome.
LSU: The Tigers showed impressive composure in overcoming their slow start and season-high 21 turnovers. Despite the strong finish to the first half, the Tigers made only 30% of their shots in the opening 20 minutes. Too often, LSU’s shooters settled for 3s while failing to develop shots closer to the basket.
LSU made only 3 of its first 19 shots from the field. Darius Days, who leads the Tigers with an average of 16 points per game, missed his first six shots before finally sinking a 3-pointer with 5:19 remaining in the first half. He had five points while making 2 of 11 shots from the field.
Georgia Tech: Plays Southern California in Phoenix on Dec. 18.
LSU: Hosts Northwestern State on Tuesday night.