LSU BASKETBALL: Don’t let the signifigance of tonight’s LSU NIT home game against North Texas be lost on you

Trae Hannibal
Trae Hannibal scored a career-high 22 points to lead LSU, but it wasn't enough as MSU freshman Josh Hubbard was deadly from outside in the Bulldogs 20-point win over the Tigers on Saturday night. PHOTO BY Michael Bacigalupi

Not that long ago, LSU didn’t have a basketball program. It didn’t have a single player or coach on its roster.

Now, LSU is heading to play postseason basketball for the first time since the Will Wade era.

“I’m proud of our program,” LSU head coach Matt McMahon said. “I didn’t come to LSU to celebrate 9-9, but sometimes we all think success is just this easy climb and you get to where you want to go on a smooth travel plan. 23 months ago, LSU didn’t have a basketball program. It’s been a gradual process. I think it is an accomplishment.”

LSU (17-15, 9-9 SEC) won five of its last eight games to end the season and had three wins over Top 25 teams. The Tigers will host North Texas (18-14, 10-8 AAC) in the first round of the NIT tonight. The Mean Green have won four of their last six games to end the season and were knocked out of their conference tournament by Florida Atlantic.

“We have a really good North Texas team coming in here,” McMahon said. “Giving a quick preview of them, top 40 defense in the country, they do a terrific job forcing turnovers. From an offensive standpoint, one of the top 15 three-point shooting teams in the country, is really efficient there. I think Coach (Ross) Hodge does a great job with the design of their offense to take advantage of mismatches. They have a lot of really skilled and talented guards out there on the floor. They’re a top 40 offensive rebounding team in the country, Robert Allen is as good of an offensive rebounder as there is in the country. I just have a lot of respect for the way they play; really physical, tough and aggressive and very skilled with their ability to shoot the ball from three and create one-on-ones off the dribble.”

LSU and North Texas played each other in the Charleston Classic in November last year. LSU won that game 66-62 and Will Baker led the way with 16 points. Derek Fountain went 6-of-6 from the floor and added 14 points. Jordan Wright chipped in 12 points.

The first matchup had 22 lead changes in the game. LSU trailed 57-56 with 4:10 left in the game before going on a 10-5 run in the closing minutes to come away with the win.

Jason Edwards led North Texas with 22 points off the bench. He made four threes and the Mean Green made 12 threes as a team. The Tigers made just four threes in the game. LSU shot 50% from the field and was able to hold North Texas to 31.7% from the field.

Edwards is North Texas’ top scorer this season with 19.1 points per game. Robert Allen leads the team with 7.2 rebounds per game. Allen is the 26th best offensive rebounder in the nation with 3.34 per game. North Texas has four different players averaging over 10 points per game this season.

North Texas is averaging 69.1 points per game this season compared to LSU’s 76.3 points per game. The Tigers also outrebound the Mean Green with 35.8 rebounds per game compared to their 34.7.

McMahon doesn’t think the first matchup will have much impact on the game tonight. Both teams have made changes to their lineups since the first meeting.

“I’m not sure how much the familiarity helps with this one,” McMahon said. “It’s been, I believe 125 days since we played. I think we’re an a lot different team from that game. Personnel, the rotation is a little different. Style of play is certainly evolved since the season has gone along. Unfortunately, I think they’re an a lot better team as well from when we played them.”

Baker and Wright were the only players that started in the first matchup and also started in LSU’s loss to Mississippi State last week. Trae Hannibal, Tyrell Ward and Derek Fountain all started on the bench against North Texas but have inserted themselves in the starting lineup since then. Edwards, the team’s top scorer, didn’t find himself in North Texas’ starting lineup until over a month after the LSU game.

LSU and North Texas play tonight in the PMAC. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.

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