SAN FRANCISCO -- The USF Dons' postseason started on the right foot Wednesday night, with Kruize Pinkins burying a midrange jumper for the first points of the game.
That's about as good as it got for USF, as Louisiana State scored nine straight points and never trailed the rest of the game. The Dons' third postseason appearance in four seasons ended with the Tigers walking off the floor at Memorial Gym with a 71-63 victory in the first round of the NIT.
The Tigers (20-13) advance to play top-seeded Southern Methodist, which beat UC Irvine on Wednesday night in another NIT matchup.
In the first-ever meeting between USF and LSU, the teams played it close for the first 25 minutes or so as might be expected of a game between the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds, respectively.
However, the Dons (21-12) got overwhelmed down the stretch by a Tigers team that went from ice cold from 3-point range to near automatic during a pivotal run that turned a 41-38 lead into a 61-45 edge.
Forward Cole Dickerson scored a game-high 24 points and added eight rebounds in his final game for USF.
"He definitely left a legacy, a foundation for us to build on," USF coach Rex Walters said.
Six of Dickerson's points came on 3-point shots. He connected on 2 of 8 from beyond the three-point arc. His teammates made only 1 of 15.
The Tigers weren't much better until about five minutes into the second half, when Shavon Coleman ignited an 11-5 run with the first of three straight 3-pointers by him and his teammates.
Until that point, the Tigers had made only 2 of 12 from long distance. Center Johnny O'Bryant III said it seemed like only a matter of time before the 3-pointers found the mark.
"San Francisco kept coming with the double (team), so I just kept kicking it out," O'Bryant said. "It was a different ballgame in the second half."
Twice the Dons cut the Tigers' lead to one in the first half. Both times, the Tigers responded with baskets and never led by fewer than three in the second half.
The Dons made a spirited run late in the second half, with Tim Derksen scoring six points during an 11-5 run. That cut the lead to 66-58 with 4:27 left.
An alley-oop slam by Mark Tollefsen brought the Dons within six with 2:05 left, and it also brought the fans out of their seats.
The Dons got the ball back twice with a chance to cut further into the lead. An errant shot and a blocked shot squashed those opportunities.
"We had our chances," Walters said. "We definitely had our chances."
From there, the Tigers salted away the victory from the free-throw line, as the Dons tried in vain to pull off an improbable comeback.
Derksen finished with 12 points, and Pinkins had seven points and 10 rebounds for the Dons.
Walters said he is hopeful that the returning players build off the success of this year's team.
"Right now, it doesn't feel all that great, but they accomplished a heck of a lot," Walters said.