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March 16, 2006
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Once ''Big Baby'' asserted himself, there was no stopping LSU.
Glen Davis scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half and the fourth-seeded Southeastern Conference regular-season champions overcame a sluggish start to beat No. 13 seed Iona 80-64 in the first round of the Atlanta Regional on Thursday night.
Davis, a 6-foot-9, 310-pound sophomore nicknamed ''Big Baby,'' took over after missing eight of his first nine shots and being held to five points in the opening half. The SEC player of the year finished 7-of-15 from the field and had 13 rebounds - six of them after halftime.
Steve Burtt and Ricky Soliver, the highest-scoring guard tandem in Division I, did all they could to keep Iona (23-8) in the game. Burtt had 23 points and Soliver 14 in their final college contests, but were a combined 2-for-14 on 3-point attempts.
LSU (24-8), which trailed 37-32 at the half, rebounded from a disappointing loss to Florida in the SEC tournament to advance to a second-round matchup against either fifth-seeded Syracuse or No. 12 Texas A&M on Saturday.
Darrel Mitchell scored 19 for the Tigers, who put together an 18-7 run to pull away from a 38-38 tie. Iona trimmed an 11-point deficit to 60-57 with about six minutes left, but LSU spurted again with Davis delivering a fallaway jumper in the lane to key a 10-0 run.
After falling short in the SEC tournament the last two seasons and playing poorly in a first-round loss to UAB in last year's NCAAs, LSU feels it needs to make a strong run to essentially validate the progress coach John Brady has made in rebuilding the Tigers' program.
Davis has been a big part of the success and - at least on paper - figured to give LSU a significant advantage against a guard-oriented team like Iona, whose tallest defenders all yielded at least 70 pounds to the bulky, yet agile LSU star.
Burtt and Soliver dominated early, giving the Gaels hope of getting their first victory in the NCAA tournament since coach Jeff Ruland was the team's star in 1980. The high-scoring tandem produced nearly 42 points a game during the regular season and combined for 24 of Iona's 37 in the opening half.
But once Davis took over, he was clearly the best player on the floor. His teammates fed off his energy from the moment he rebounded his own miss and scored for LSU's first basket of the second half.