Kansas State’s Keyontae Johnson grabbed a loose ball along the left baseline after LSU’s Trae Hannibal had stripped it away, then Johnson heaved a high-arching prayer from 14 feet away that caressed the glass and bounced in with 4.7 left to play.
Johnson’s prayer turned out to be enough and Kansas State remained undefeated and handed LSU its first loss, 61-59, in the championship game of the Cayman Islands Classic on Wednesday night.
LSU appeared to have tied the game and forced overtime, inbounding the ball and going the length of court with Hannibal hitting a layup that clearly went through the basket before time expired.
However, a video review by officials, overturned the bucket when it was determined the clock operator failed to start the clock soon enough on the inbounds play.
Adam Miller gave LSU the lead, 59-57 with his layup with 1:15 left, but K-State’s Markquis Nowell answered with a jumper with 49 seconds to go. The Tigers’ KJ Williams turned over the ball 15 seconds later, the Wildcats ran the clock down before Johnson took a frenzied feed from Desi Sills after Sills managed to gather in Hannibal’s turnover and Johnson buried the winning shot.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing. I’ll have to look at the film and see. Never been a part of a game ending that way,” LSU coach Matt McMahon said.
“It looked like the guys had executed it (the length-of-the-court in-bounds play that apparently tied the game) well and made the play. I’ll have to see when the clock didn’t start, but, man, I don’t know, I guess that’s the way the rule is written. They get out a stopwatch and somehow determine the speed of the film, and then decide to call the game because of that. It’s just disappointing, man,” McMahon said.
Neither team managed a two-possession lead in the final eight minutes. The game was tied three times in the final five minutes and there were four lead changes.
Nowell led Kansas State (6-0) with 18 points and Sills contributed 16 points off the bench.
Williams led LSU (5-1) with a double-double, putting up 17 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Justice Hill scored 12 points and Miller contributed 11 points.
“Tough way to lose. I can’t fault our players for their great effort on the floor. Just wish I could have done a better job of getting them in position to be more effective offensively in the second half,” McMahon said.
LSU led 41-33 at halftime after having built as much as 12-point lead over Kansas State in the first half.
Williams scored 13 points of his team-high 17 in the first half, and Hill shut down Nowell, Kansas State’s leading scorer, for most of the first half.
In the first half, LSU’s defensive pressure forced Kansas State into 11 turnovers, while the Tigers committed only three. The Tigers scored 11 points off the turnovers it ended with 14 more shots in the first half than the Wildcats.
It was a totally different story, however, in the second half.
“We turned it over 14 times, unfortunately, some of those turnovers led to some pick-6 breakaway layups, and then we shoot 50% at the free throw line,” McMahon said. “Man, it’s just disappointing. Couldn’t score enough points there in the second half to win.”
Miller and Williams, LSU leading scorers this season, combined for six points in the second half.
McMahon credited Kansas State’s improved post-denial defense in the second half for shutting down Williams and forcing LSU into too many one-on-one instances as the game wore on.
“We got some good looks there in the first half,” McMahon said. “They did a good job of forcing KJ there, we were able to get him the ball down there in the paint in the first half. Obviously, we did a good job, we scored 41 points, we should have had 50 if we make our free throws.”
LSU made only four of 10 free throws in the first half.
“Then in the second half they were more aggressive in their post denial on KJ,” McMahon said. “And then, we didn’t cut hard enough to get open offensively, and their post denial bothered us and put us into a position where we had to play a lot one-on-one, and that just hasn’t been our strength.”
In the final seconds of the first half, LSU had what appeared a commanding and comfortable 11-point lead, 41-30, where the Tigers had rendered Nowell and Johnson each ineffective for most of the first half. Johnson had scored the Wildcats first eight points of the game but had managed only two points since. Meanwhile, Nowell, who scored 28 in the tournament semifinal win on Tuesday over Nevada, had managed only six points with only one made field goal to that point.
But at the end of the first half, Nowell heaved a long-range bomb as time expired. The ball rattled around the rim and went through to cut LSU’s lead at halftime, 41-33.
In the second half, Kansas State moved to a smaller lineup to combat LSU’s man-to-man pressure defense.
LSU started turning the ball over, and Wildcats’ transition offense proved to be the difference, especially during a four-minute span when, the Tigers’ turnovers and poor free throw shooting, allowed Kansas State to go on an 8-0 run to take its first lead since early in the first half, 50-49, with 7:47 left to play.
“Crushing loss out there,” McMahon said. “I told the team after the game, the last time a team went undefeated in college basketball was 50 years ago. So, a lot of it is how do you respond to the losses. How do you respond moving forward. We’ve got to move forward, as disappointing as it is.
“The great thing for us is we get to go home and celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow and prepare to play again Sunday afternoon at 2, and we’ve got to keep getting better,” McMahon said.