LSU basketball is in a world of hurt and it couldn’t come at a worse time.
The Tigers opened the second half of their SEC schedule with their fourth loss in the last five games, this one a 78-60 flameout at No. 10 Alabama Wednesday night.
Though the SEC-leading Crimson Tide (15-4, 10-0) seemed initially mentally hungover after having their 10-game winning streak snapped by Oklahoma last Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Shootout, Alabama simply erased the Tigers (11-6, 6-4 SEC) as soon they exited the locker room at halftime.
LSU junior point guard Javonte Smart succinctly summed the Tigers’ formula of bad basketball.
“Our offense wasn’t at its best tonight and we were a little lackadaisical on defense,” said Smart, who scored 14 points as the only Tiger in double figures besides freshman guard Cam Thomas.
Helter-skelter offense and pulseless defense won’t beat most teams. It certainly wasn’t good enough to handle the Crimson Tide, who decided at halftime they needed to step on LSU’s collective chest and squeeze all hope out of the Tigers.
LSU trailed by just 36-30 at the break, but from the get-go in the second half its offense was a hot mess. The Tigers missed their first eight shots and 12 of their first 13, often pushing the ball wildly up court and diving into crowds of defenders on drives hoping to draw contact and foul calls.
With no other viable scoring options since junior forward Darius Days is sidelined for two weeks with sprained ankle, Smart, Thomas and slumping Trendon Watford accounted for 15 of LSU’s 20 made field goals and 47 of the Tigers’ 65 field goal attempts.
The Tide opened the second half on an 18-2 run. They weren’t exactly on fire, but LSU’s offense looked less organized than a YMCA lunchtime businessmen’s pickup game.
“We felt like we were in the game, we felt good about that,” said Thomas, who scored 13 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. “But then we had few turnovers, we missed a few chippies at the basket and that’s what turned everything around.”
Without the 6-7, 246-pound Days, the SEC’s fourth leading rebounder, LSU got destroyed 51-35 in rebounding and got outscored 17-4 in second chance points.
The Tigers were conscious of guarding the 3-point line since Alabama hit an SEC-record 23 3-pointers in 30-point laugher over LSU on Jan. 19 in Baton Rouge. So, the Tide took the ball to the hoop often this time around and outscored the Tigers 52-26 in points in the paint.
“We’ve got guys who can dribble the ball and beat their man,” said Alabama’s Jaden Shackelford, who scored a team-high 19 points. “When we play, there are big gaps around the floor. So, it wasn’t too hard once you opened those gaps up and got past our man.”
LSU’s latest nosedive is dropping a Tigers’ team that once was in No. 7 seed territory for the NCAA tournament into being on the bubble.
The Tigers don’t have a single Quad 1 win (the most valuable type of win on a resume to earn an NCAA tourney at-large bid) this season, meaning they haven’t won a home game against teams in the top 30 of NET (the NCAA evaluation tool), neutral-site games against the top 50 and road games against the top 75.
LSU still has a chance to get a few Quad 1 wins in its remaining eight SEC games, starting Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center vs. Florida.
Wade’s biggest battle between now and then is making sure his team doesn’t mentally tank.
“I tell our guys all the time adversity visits the strong and lives in the weak,” Wade said. “We’ve got to be strong and make this a passing thing.”