Tigers stayed true to who they were
In the aftermath, what do you say we give LSU basketball some credit here?
The Tigers exited the NCAA Tournament in style despite losing to top-seeded Michigan 86-78 in a game that seemed much closer than the final score.
LSU got beat by a better team. It happens sometimes, even in the NCAA Tournament.
And at least it was high entertainment.
That’s not usually the case for LSU’s tournament exits, no matter the chills and thrills that precede them.
Historically, once LSU gets past the first round, whenever and wherever the end comes, it’s quick, decisive and generally pretty ugly on the Tigers’ part.
There was the 80-63 loss to Michigan State two years ago (never really a game; not as close as the scoreboard suggested) in the Sweet 16. Or 77-63 to North Carolina in the second round of 2009.
Not this time.
If nothing else, the Tigers put on a good show, as did Michigan, of course.
Rather than one of LSU’s typical NCAA-sayonara face plants, this was one of the more interesting games of the young tournament, two really good teams going at it hammer and tongs (with the refs letting them play for the most part).
LSU should have no regrets.
In the end, it was more about what Michigan did than what the Tigers didn’t do.
LSU did what it does.
Never mind the Tigers, on talent, were a trendy pick to pull the upset.
And, granted, seeding hasn’t seemed to carry much caché in this Big Dance. Just a rough estimate, it turns out. But you think the Wolverines got that No. 1 seed for the East Regional from a pawn shop?
No. That’s a good Wolverines basketball team and just because the Big Ten has been belly-flopping its way across Indiana, doesn’t mean the Wolverines were bogus.
Yet some noticed that LSU outrebounded St. Bonaventure in the opener, accompanied by scattered sightings of defense, and decided the Tigers had suddenly learned to do both.
Not really their style. Doesn’t work that way. Not against a Michigan.
But what a good game it was — in stark contrast to the Tigers’ snoozer of an opening round win. On Monday, LSU seemed on the verge of taking total control in the first half, particularly with its red-hot shooting out of the gates.
Michigan somehow led by a point at the half and seemingly had taken control. But the Tigers came out scorching again to start the second half and it was game on.
Punch, counterpunch, one run after another, all seemingly answered before either team could ever get comfortable.
“They’d go up, we’d go up,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “Give them credit; they answered our runs. We had them down. We probably led half the game. We tried to throw some knockout punches and just couldn’t deliver.”
The Tigers, for all the talent of their dynamic scoring foursome of Cam Thomas, Javonte Smart, Darius Days and Trendon Watford, never did get around to developing much auxiliary support from the bench this season.
The Tigers got two points off the bench — Michigan got 26.
Forget the production. A little R&R during the game might have helped the Tigers’ starters.
It might have come in handy with the breakneck pace the game was played, just the way the Tigers like it despite the lack of bench power.
Thomas and Smart played all 40 minutes. Watford played 35. If a Tiger took a seat, he was probably in foul trouble.
“I thought we got worn down at the end of the first half,” Wade said. “We got worn down the last seven or eight minutes of the game. That hurt us when we had some leads, just couldn’t hold on to the leads.”
But lack of depth wasn’t a new development. That’s who the Tigers were this season and they dealt with it.
And if the hot-shooting streaks seemed to be followed by scoring droughts, same thing.
They weren’t going to quit shooting the long ones. That’s who they were.
And surely no team in the tournament missed more 2-foot shots in two games than the Tigers did.
Well, that was LSU too.
No shame in losing while playing your own game.
When LSU will back dancing is open to debate.
The national view on the Tigers for this stay in Indiana was of a team whistling as it dribbled past the graveyard — or in this case the NCAA headquarters just a good baseball outlet pass from LSU’s team hotel in Indianapolis.
It wasn’t readily visible to TV viewers, but apparently the Tigers were playing their two games under a dark cloud, even while sequestered under the pandemic protocols in place.
The heart of this team will likely be heading to the NBA.
But that’s the least of the worries.
LSU will definitely be back — back in Indianapolis, at least, at some point to sort out the accusations of NCAA violations hanging over the program, with Wade at the center of it.
One way or another, that Indianapolis trip will have far more effect on the program than this last one.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU
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