Vanderbilt’s dubious SEC record of 26 consecutive conference losses came to an end Wednesday night in Nashville against league leading LSU.
The Tigers’ lethargic, half-step late defense resulted in Vandy’s first-half 3-point shooting contest and the Commodores’ second-half layup drill in a 99-90 Vanderbilt victory at Memorial Gym.
LSU (17-4, 8-1) lost for the first time after 10 consecutive wins.
It wasn’t a fluke win by Vanderbilt (9-13, 1-8 SEC), which led for almost 32½ minutes. The Commodores produced two 30-point scoring efforts, 33 from Saben Lee and 31 from Maxwell Evans.
“This is as disappointing a game that I’ve been a part of at LSU,” Tigers’ third-year coach Will Wade said. “It’s my fault. I didn’t have us as prepared and as mentally ready as we needed to be.
“Vanderbilt deserved to beat us. They were quicker to the ball all night long. It was a very poor effort on our part with everything we had to play for.”
The Tigers, who were led by freshman forward Trendon Watford’s career-high 26 points and sophomore forward Emmitt Williams 24 points and 11 rebounds, had done a stunning job in January rebuilding their NCAA tourney resume after an 8-4 non-conference start.
Some of those positives got erased by losing to the worst team in the league that had been winless in league play.
While lightly regarded Evans scorched LSU for 25 first-half points, Lee, the son of former Florida State running back Amp Lee, took care of the back end for the Commodores with 17 second-half points.
“We didn’t have anybody who could guard Saben Lee the entire night,” Wade said. “He just whipped us, and we couldn’t stop them as a team.
“We tried every ball screen coverage we had and every defense we had. We emptied the entire deal and we just didn’t have it.”
It was evident midway through the first half LSU was going to have its hands full with a Vanderbilt team bound and determined to break its embarrassing losing streak.
Despite Vanderbilt’s 8-of-18 3-point shooting in the opening 20 minutes, the Tigers were managing to hang close to the Commodores by playing their game of getting the ball to the paint, drawing 15 first half Vandy fouls and hitting 18-of-21 free throws.
LSU led 32-31 with 6:44 left before Vanderbilt scored eight points as the Tigers’ offense lost their poise. There was a stretch when LSU took and missed four 3-pointers in seven possessions as Vandy’s 19-5 run in five minutes put the Tigers in a 13-point hole at 50-37 with 1:51 left.
At that point, LSU came to it senses, went back inside on offense and closed on an 10-2 run to trail 52-47 at the half.
After Evans torched LSU on 5-of-7 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes, you thought the Tigers might have made it a point of emphasis at the halftime to do a better job of locating him.
Apparently not. In the first 3:02 of the second half, Evans nailed two more open 3s as LSU still struggled with its defensive rotations.
An 8-0 LSU burst in a 55-second span finally got the Tigers the lead at 83-80 with 6:46 left, but Vandy scored six straight points in the next 2:09 to jump back on top 86-83.
Down the stretch, with guard Skylar Mays playing with four fouls and Williams leaving the game briefly after tweaking an ankle, LSU had no miracle victory remedies in its trick bag.
Too many Tigers – Mays, Javonte Smart, Darius Days and Marlon Taylor – had subpar games preventing the Tigers from stealing a win.
“Hopefully, we’ll learn from this,” Wade said. “If we don’t, we’re going to give up about 130 points on Saturday.”
That’s when LSU plays at No. 11 Auburn, which trails LSU by one game in the SEC as does Kentucky. Tipoff is set for 11 a.m.