LSU basketball’s season ends with a home loss to defending NIT champs North Texas

LSU basketball's season came to an end after a home loss to North Texas. PHOTO BY: Michael Bacigalupi

LSU basketball didn’t make a deep run at the SEC Tournament or qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but it still had a shot at a postseason run in the NIT.

Then it met North Texas.

Despite 18 second half points from senior Jordan Wright and plenty of fight from the Tigers, they just couldn’t stop the North Texas offense and finished the season with an 84-77 loss in the first round of the NIT.

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” LSU head coach Matt McMahon said. “We wanted to advance in the tournament and have an opportunity to keep playing, but I have a great appreciation for our players, their effort, their resiliency this season, for the improvements that have been made in our program and their ability to get us into the postseason.”

The Mean Green avenged a loss to LSU earlier in the season with the win and started its NIT title defense with a bang. UNT finished the game shooting 49.2% from the field and knocked down 11 threes.

LSU (17-16, 9-9 SEC) had a couple early threes on its way to jumping out to a 12-7 lead. North Texas (18-14) kept pace with the Tigers though and tied the game at 20-20 with 7:57 left in the half thanks to a three pointer from CJ Noland.

“I thought we got off to a good start,” McMahon said. “The ball was moving, I thought we got some good looks. I thought our defensive effort was really good in that stretch.”

The threes kept falling for UNT as it pulled away from LSU towards the end of the half. The Mean Green made six first-half threes and held an 11-point lead at one point. LSU managed to cut the lead to seven at the break thanks to four free throws and some good defense.

UNT went 1-for-7 on its last seven shots of the half but LSU didn’t make a field goal in the last 4:31 before halftime. LSU shot 50% from three with four makes in the first half, but the Tigers only shot 35.5% from the floor. UNT shot 42.4% from the field and 42.9% from three on its way to a 38-31 halftime lead.

Trae Hannibal was LSU’s top scorer at halftime with nine points. Wright had seven points and Will Baker had just two. Rubin Jones led the Mean Green with 12 points and two threes at the break.

LSU got the looks it wanted on offense to start the second half but struggled to find stops on the defensive end of the court. North Texas consistently brought the shot clock down before taking a shot. The Mean Green dragged at least 20 seconds off the clock on every possession they could.

LSU shot 55.2% from the field and went 7-of-15 from three in the second half but every time the Tigers scored UNT had an answer. The Mean Green shot 57.7% from the field and went 5-of-12 from three. Both teams scored 46 points in the second half.

“We knew who they were,” McMahon said. “They got a really good basketball team. We knew they were a top-15 three point shooting team in the country and they shot the ball exceptionally well form three. They were the better team tonight. That’s the bottom line.”

LSU found itself down 66-48 with 8:46 to go in the game. Wright made several threes to drag LSU back into the game and a three from Tyrell Ward cut the deficit to less than 10 with 2:10 to go in the game.

A Jalen Reed layup assisted by Wright made the score 80-75 with 52 seconds left in the game, but the hole proved to be too much for LSU to dig out of. UNT struggled to knock down its free throws to keep LSU in the game, but an airball from Wright gave the ball back to UNT with just 11 second left in the game and an 82-77 lead.

Noland made a layup with four seconds left to make the score 84-77 and end LSU’s season. Noland led UNT with 21 points while shooting 70% from the field and going 3-for-4 from three.

Wright finished with 25 points and made four threes on seven attempts. Hannibal led LSU in rebounds with nine and was the team’s second top scorer with 15.

“I’m definitely excited for the future,” Wright said. “Coming in here I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Coach did an amazing job of preparing us, getting us ready and I think we went in and fought. We might not have finished the way we wanted to but every game we fought. We never laid down. We never quit.”

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