LSU erased a 14-point halftime deficit, but never could quite take a lead Wednesday night as the Tigers dropped a heart breaker in head coach Will Wade’s return to VCU.
The No. 23 Tigers (1-1) committed 26 turnovers that turned into 37 VCU (3-0) points.
Entering the game, Wade stressed the importance of limiting turnovers. Instead, the Tigers committed more than they had in his entire tenure with the program.
“If we go into VCU on Wednesday night and turn the ball over like we’ve been turning the ball over, we are going to get our doors blown off,” Wade said on Friday night after the Tigers committed 16 against Bowling Green.
LSU may not have had its doors blown off, but 12 first-half turnovers did allow the Rams to jump out to a significant lead early and make life hard for the Tigers for the remainder of the game.
Wade returned to a sold out Siegel Center for the first time since taking the LSU job to a chorus of boos and fans dressed in mock FBI uniforms, and the Rams used that crowd energy to make the Tigers uncomfortable and dominate the back end of the second half.
LSU jumped out to an 11-5 lead to start the game, but it didn’t last long as when VCU got going, they looked unstoppable going on a huge run and taking a 50-38 lead into the break.
The Tigers’ turnover problems didn’t get much better in the second half, but their defense certainly did. Wade had LSU switch between man-to-man and a 2-3 zone, keeping the Rams off balance and limiting their good looks at the 3-point line in the second half.
It finally paid off near the midway point of half when the Tigers went on an 11-0 run that cut VCU’s lead to 3 points, and the two teams traded blows for the remainder of the contest.
LSU tied the game three times at 67 points apiece, then 71 points apiece and finally 80 points apiece before finally taking an 82-81 lead with 27 seconds left.
Things began to fall apart after that, however, as Emmitt Williams fouled out in tragic fashion as he bumped into De’Riante Jenkins shooting a 3-pointer that had little chance of going in.
Jenkins hit two of them, and the Tigers never trailed again.
LSU senior Skylar Mays had three separate chances to turn the tide, but he missed twice and then failed to get a shot off in the final possession of the game before turning it over, sealing it for VCU.
It wasn’t hard see why the Tigers would go to Mays. Despite the missed opportunities at the end of the game, Mays shot 8 for 17 for 23 points with 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.
His Bayou Backcourt teammate Javonte Smart, who spent most of the first half on high alert after picking up two fouls in the opening four minutes of the game, finished shooting 5-for-9 for 15 points. Both finished the game with 7 turnovers apiece.
VCU’s player of the game came in the unexpected play of forward Marcus Santos-Silva, who tallied a team-high 17 points and 11 rebounds. He also had four steals and a pair of blocks.
LSU was able to stay in the game thanks to their 51.7-percent shooting clip with 7 of 17 shots from behind the 3-point line falling.
And despite struggling to rebound at times, the Tigers edged VCU on the boards 34-33.
But ultimately the Tigers’ assist to turnover ration (9-26) was too much to overcome, much like Wade predicted on Saturday.
Freshman Trendon Watford finished the game with 11 points on 50-percent shooting, and Days shot a perfected 4-for-4 including two 3-pointers for 10 points before fouling out.
LSU will get back to action Saturday afternoon against Nicholls State at 3 p.m.