Up nine with 12 seconds to play, LSU head coach Will Wade called for a timeout.
“Enjoy that,” he yelled to UL-Lafayette head coach Bob Marlin, who declined the invitation and, instead, had to be held back by his assistants, the culmination of three days full of trash talk and 40 minutes of heated hoops.
“Since they don’t get to play us very often,” Wade said after the game, explaining the reasoning behind his time out, “I thought they should sit there and enjoy it.”
Will Wade timeout. Yells at Bob Marlin. Oh boy. pic.twitter.com/KuufTDR9fv
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) March 15, 2018
The Cajuns may not have enjoyed the 84-76 LSU win in the first round of the NIT as much as the Tigers did. Neither had quite as much fun as the fans, who saw a testy, high-tempered contest between in-state foes made hotter by pre-game chatter from Marlin about the state of LSU’s program.
“I take exception when people take shots at your program,” Wade said, referring to Marlin’s press conference earlier in the week, in which he made disparaging comments toward LSU’s program. “Our guys take exception to that. To be honest, before Sunday, ULL wasn’t even a thought in my mind. I had no idea what they were. After the last couple of days, it’s been something else. Never seen anything like that.”
Before the game, Marlin told Lafayette media he felt ULL should host the game, citing its superior RPI (63 to 94) and record (27-6 entering the game to LSU’s 17-14). He said the Cajundome was a better venue than the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and that ULL’s recent success outweighed LSU’s, saying the Tigers should be excited about the NIT since they’d not had any recent success.
“If we had played this game in Lafayette,” Marlin said, “it would have been a little different, in my opinion.”
Instead, his Cajuns make the 60-mile trek home down I-10 West without a win, while LSU heads on to the second round, where it will travel to play Utah.
LSU now also has its first-ever home NIT win, and it was a memorable one. Sure, the on-court action was thrilling, with ULL getting as close as three on several occasions and just missing a couple of game-tying attempts in the final minutes, and LSU needing all of Duop Reath’s 26 points to hold on.
But it was the postgame fireworks – fueled by Marlin’s pre-game commentary and Wade’s inherent competitiveness – that will truly stand the test of time in the collective memories of LSU fans.
Wade certainly hadn’t forgotten Marlin’s comments in the moments after the game, either. A reporter asked him after “what shots” ULL had taken, Wade retorted: “Have you been under a rock?” He then unleashed an epic rant, detailing why he felt LSU’s resume was far better than the Cajuns. He cited LSU’s seven wins over NCAA Tournament teams, compared to ULL’s zero. He cited LSU’s nine quadrant 1 and 2 wins compared to ULL’s one. He cited LSU’s better strength of schedule, in and out of conference.
“They take shots at our gym,” Wade said. “By the way, we have an arena, not a gym. They take shots at our arena and stuff like that. That’s just not right. We aren’t scared of anybody. Point blank. Period.”
All week, Wade used Marlin’s comments as motivation, playing Marlin’s press conference on loop in LSU’s locker room.
“We didn’t do anything special,” Wade said.
“We definitely used that as motivation,” sophomore Skylar Mays said.
How many times did the team hear it on Wednesday?
“Plenty,” said Mays.
“As a competitor, you can’t let someone talk about you a certain way. You gotta come in and stand up for yourself. We did a good job of doing that today.”
In addition to Marlin’s on the record comments, there was other chatter that bothered some players. Tremont Waters, who had 9 points and 7 assists in 24 foul-plagued minutes, got wind that Marlin had called him “an overrated midget” in the build-up to the game.
“He said I was an overrated midget,” Waters said. He added that he wasn’t sure if that was an on the record comment or not. “That’s what I heard. But I have nothing to say back to them. I’m cool. I’m human. I know words can’t really hurt me. For him to call me that…have fun driving back to wherever you came from.”
If it bothered him, Waters didn’t let it show. His seven assists lead the game, despite a nagging headache. He battled that rattling around his head – the headache was not at all helped by a broken nose and a protective mask – to help lead the Tigers to the win.
“It didn’t do anything to me,” Waters said. “I’ve been short all my life. It’s not something I can change. The fact that he pointed it out and said it whatever he said it. For it to come out and get back to me, it was a sign that I must be doing something right.
“If a head coach at a university is brave enough to say that about a player, I must be doing something right. My teammates had my back, and Coach Wade had my back also.”
Marlin didn’t back down from his comments directed toward LSU after the game.
“What did I say? I said we should have been seeded higher and I believe that,” he said. “I stand up for what I said before and we wanted a home game. We won 27 games this year; it took them two years to win 27 games. We’ve had the highest RPI in the state the last two years. But this year is what’s important; we had a heck of a team. Our RPI was 30 points higher and that’s on the NIT. If we had played this game in Lafayette, it would have been a little bit different in my opinion. I backed up what I said; I stood up for my team, our program and the university. We should’ve been a higher seed and I still say that.”
Wade had plenty more to say after the game, too. Safe to say, he will not be leaving LSU to take the job in Lafayette anytime soon. He may not head west of the Mississippi for a couple of weeks after this one. Not even for a rematch, which, given Wednesday night’s excitement, would certainly move the needle in Louisiana.
“I was glad that we were able to win for our fans,” he said, “because I can only imagine having to listen to all of that stuff.”
Wade had enough of listening from the last couple of days. After the post-game press conferences were done, he’d had enough talking, too. All that mattered to him, in the end, was the scoreboard.
“We are about action,” Wade said, “not talk here.”
For two teams that have only played six times since World War II, it felt an awful lot like a rivalry in the making. Are there more LSU-ULL matchups in the future? Wade said ULL’s three-year rolling RPI of 133 is worse than other programs like Houston, Memphis, and VCU that LSU already has home and homes scheduled with.
That, and not fear, will be the only reason this matchup wouldn’t see a rematch soon.
“We aren’t scared of anybody,” Wade said.