I really don't know where to begin in recapping the game that seemingly would never end. We played great for 37 minutes, but it's a 40 minute game, and sometimes a 55 minute game.
It started slow with neither team scoring in the first 3 minutes. I thought we were shooting too many 3s in the first half. I understood the strategy, LSU obviously had an advantage down low against us, so it would be necessary to make some shots. Thankfully, the shots finally started falling. Moussa Gueye did a nice job defensively in the first half on the LSU bigs. Watching him and the big tuba player go after it was...interesting. I was surprised LSU did not make more of an effort to get the ball to Johnny O'Bryant in the post in the first half. We ended up 8 of 21 from 3 point range.
For once, not using the "use it or lose it" timeout to end the first half actually worked out for us. Andrew Steele made an incredible 3 at the buzzer to give us a 5 point lead going into the half.
Our defense took a dramatic turn for the worst early in the 2nd half when Moussa picked up fouls number 3 and 4 in short order. At least one of those calls seemed very questionable from my vantage point. Gueye was limited in what he could do with 4 fouls, and that left us with Jacobs and at times Pollard trying to defend O'Bryant. If he got the ball in the post, he was pretty much able to score at will. We were forced to play a lot of zone, and actually did a fairly good job of denying the entry passes and forcing some turnovers, but they were able to hit some big 3's against us at key times. I was disappointed with how many wide open looks they were able to get underneath the basket, they would set screens for their big men away from the ball and cut to the basket, and we were not able to communicate and adjust.
Despite all of that, we had a 10 point lead with under 3 minutes to go, thanks in large part to Trevor Releford just completely going off. T-Relly was in the zone, 14 of 18 from the field, including a perfect 4 for 4 from downtown, and 36 points for the game. You could sense an intense level of determination by LSU to get back into the game. I don't think we "let up" or "choked" per se. I have seen some comments here and other places critical of our shot selection toward the end of the game, specifically Cooper missing a couple of 3 in the final 2 minutes. I did not have a problem with those shots, they were open looks, and Cooper has been shooting better lately. If he makes one of those, we probably put them away. In fact, I even commented at the time that I was glad we were not going to 4 corners, I felt like if we played "not to lose" at that point, LSU would surely come back. Continuing to look for shots at that point is not why we lost the game.
We lost the game because we did not take care of the basketball and we fouled too much in those final 3 minutes. I was shocked to see we only had 13 turnovers in this game, it felt like a lot more, I guess because we had some crucial ones late when LSU was making their comeback run. LSU was aggressive and we kept getting caught out of position on defense, resulting in the fouls. They made enough free throws and clutch shots down the stretch to get it into overtime. The odds were stacked against us going into overtime. LSU had all the momentum, and with Gueye and Levi fouled out, suddenly our best asset, our defense, could be considered a liability.
Nevertheless, the team continued to fight and had chances to win. Cooper made a clutch 3 to extend the game. We nearly won it at the end of the 2nd overtime on a tip in that was just a second too late. I really thought the official did us a disservice by initially ruling it good. The team started celebrating like crazy only to have to regroup for another overtime. From where I was sitting, I thought it was pretty obvious in real time that he did not get it off. LSU had a chance to put us away in the 3rd overtime, but missed some free throws and made enough mistakes to give us one final heave for a miracle, but it was not meant to be.
I thought the officiating was inconsistent all night. There were several bad calls that went both ways. A lot of people will point to the free throw discrepancy as evidence of "home cooking" but I really do not believe that is the case. They were attacking the basket and working the ball into the post more, where you will draw more fouls than a team like us that was primarily relying on perimeter shots. I thought there were several out of bounds calls that wrongly went our way. It was frustrating because the amount of contact necessary to draw a foul seemed to change with every possession.
Even though we lost, I am glad I got to see that game. For all the talk about how "hard to watch" our games have been, this one was anything but. Neither team is great, but they both played hard and neither would go away. It had a little bit of everything that makes college basketball exciting; I just wish it would have went the other way.
With the loss, our hopes for an at large tournament berth are all but shot. I've said all along that was a pipe dream anyway, let's try to stay in 2nd and win the SEC tournament. I do not think we are mathematically eliminated from an at large position yet, but any such scenario would have to include a win in Gainesville, and well...you know.
This paragraph is totally unrelated to basketball or sports, so if you are not interested, feel free to skip it, but this is a blog, and I'm a fan, not a journalist, so I'll write about whatever the hell I want (subject to bobbyjack's approval, of course). I have talked a lot of trash about the state of Mississippi, and I still say most of what I've said is true, but I want to give some major to props to the people of the towns of Picayune and Carriere, MS. On the way down Friday night, the alternator in my car went out, and we broke down at the end of an interstate exit, in the middle of the road, at about 11pm, in Carriere, MS, during one of the worst electrical storms I have ever seen in my life. In the 45 minutes or so we were stuck there, no less than 6 or 7 people stopped to offer help. One of which recommended a towing service, who I called. This gentleman owns a towing service/body shop and was returning home from dinner with his wife, called a friend to arrange a tow truck for us, stopped and picked us up in his personal car, AND replaced my alternator the next day because he knew nobody else in town would be open. The tow truck driver even gave us a ride to a hotel in nearby Picayune at no extra charge. They had every opportunity to rip us off, but instead went out of their way to not charge me any more than cost for the part and did the labor for dirt cheap. It's a shot in the dark, but if anyone reading this ever needs a tow or any sort of body work done in Southern Mississippi, I cannot recommend Todd's Collision Center in Carriere enough. Also, while doing the paperwork to check into the hotel, the receptionist asked why we were in town, etc, and of course we explained the situation. The next morning attached to my receipt they slide under the door, she had wrote a long note with suggestions of things to do should we be stuck there all day, complete with directions, business cards for taxi services, and lunch/dinner recommendations, and website print outs for the local establishments. What could have been a very bad situation was made somewhat comfortable by people who were genuinely welcoming and going out of their way to help any way possible. Finally, I want to also give credit to the DoubleTree in Baton Rouge for allowing me to cancel at midnight on the day of arrival given the circumstances. I've stayed at that hotel before and always had good experiences, so give them a chance next time you need to crash in Red Stick.
LSU basketball reminds me of us in some ways. They have a respectable tradition, with a couple of final 4 appearances and some great players like Shaq and Pete Marovich, they came in a hot team, but they just can't generate the fan enthusiasm behind the program like it once was. I would estimate there were no more than 5,000 people there, with maybe 40 Bama fans scattered throughout. We kept the crowd out of the game for the most part, until the very end. The design of the arena traps the noise, and despite the small crowd it got very loud when LSU was on their runs. The P-Mac is an underrated venue in my opinion. It's not state of the art, but it's nice enough and provides a good fan experience. The LSU fans were good for the most part. They get a bad rap, but for some reason I've always got along well with them.
Up next, our in state rival the auburn tigers/plainsmen/eagles/fighting Barbees come to Tuscaloosa for an early 6pm start Tuesday night. I won't beg you to come out and support the team, I hear there is some football trophy presentation at halftime and as a result only a few tickets remain. I will welcome the extra crowd support, but I still think that whole tradition is outdated and silly, but I digress. We all remember what happened in auburn a few weeks ago, so hopefully the team can put the heartbreaking LSU loss behind them and get fired up for some revenge.