Down by a couple of touchdowns?
For that matter, the LSU basketball team has you right where it wants you.
Such is the case for a group of never-give-up guys who obviously don’t think the first 10 minutes of a ballgame matter, because they have this incredible ability to come back. And come back. And come back.
They’ve done it all season long, many times more than once in a game, and pity the poor team that thinks a double-digit lead is safe against LSU.
To wit: Remember LSU’s 72-67 victory over Seton Hall back on November 29? That was the first time it caught everyone’s attention, that these guys are never out of it. They were down 16 early in the second half when first-year coach Johnny Jones told them to press.
Since then, it’s become one of the best presses in the country and something that has allowed the Tigers to stay in any game. They wreak havoc on defense and cause more turnovers than you could imagine.
Anyway, against Seton Hall, the Pirates from New Jersey just folded like a house of cards in that game, watching their 46-30 lead evaporate in a hurry. FYI, Seton Hall has gone 8-4 since then and stands 13-6 overall and 2-4 in the Big East.
Not that every comeback is successful.
Now there are the two that got away, including Saturday at Kentucky. But back to that one in a bit.
First, there was that game at Marquette on Dec. 22. In that one, LSU fell behind by as many as 21 just more than five minutes to halftime. But, incredibly, the Tigers took the lead, 58-57, with 9:35 left. Marquette pulled away again, going up by as many as eight, before LSU closed to 78-76 inside a minute. Marquette held on, however, 84-80, and currently stands 14-14 overall, 5-1 in the Big East, and was right on the cusp of the rankings.
There were others, but then came last week, when LSU finally broke into the Southeastern Conference win column by beating Texas A&M, and then the trip to Kentucky.
Just 7:26 into the A&M game, the Aggies took a 19-4 lead. LSU fans are pretty bad about leaving the games early, like in the last couple of minutes when the outcome is in doubt, so you had to wonder at that point just how many of the announced crowd of 7,064 would be left for that one.Texas A&M was still up by as many as 11 with 2:42 to halftime. And then the LSU comeback switch was turned on and, well, all of a sudden the Tigers trailed just 28-27 at halftime.
LSU took its first lead, 39-38, with 14:55 on a 3-pointer by freshman Malik Morgan, who is quietly becoming a pretty good college basketball player. There were a handful of lead changes and five ties before LSU took the lead for good, 52-50, on a bucket by Shavon Coleman, another good story for the Tigers, who held on to win 58-54 and give Jones his first SEC victory. Coleman, the JC –transfer from Thibodaux, finished with a team-high 17 points, Johnny O’Bryant, his leg injury behind him, had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Anthony Hickey, the do-everything guard, had 10 points and whopping 8 of LSU’s 10 steals steals.But they made it so damn hard on themselves by falling behind by so much so early.
I had to ask Jones if he’d ever had a team do this so often.
“Unfortunately I have,” he said with a laugh. “That’s where all this gray hair comes from.”Everyone got a good laugh.
“It happens. I would I like for us to get do a better job of getting out of the gate and playing extremely well right off the bat.”
That message was lost again on Saturday at Kentucky.
A couple of things: It’s tough to play at Rupp Arena. But this is not the Kentucky team of the past two years. For that matter, these Wildcats are going to struggle to make the NCAA Tournament.But for LSU, that doesn’t seem to matter. With 5:27 to halftime, Kentucky went up 14 and then 40-25 with 2:01 left in the half. Back to that two-touchdowns thing and LSU having the Wildcats right where they want them.
LSU never could get the lead, and along the way got some help by a ridiculous flagrant foul call against Kentucky on an innocuous play, but nonetheless pulled to 70-68 with 1:01 left on an unlikely 3-pointer by O’Bryant, which made him 3-for-10 beyond the arc this season. He ended up tying his career high with a game-high 21 points.
But his last two didn’t help.
That’s because UK went up 71-68 with 30 seconds left. Coleman missed a 3 and O’Bryant rebounded inside and scored instead of kicking it back out for another try at a game-tying 3. LSU fouled UK’s Kyle Wiltjer, who hit two free throws with 3 seconds left to make it 73-70.
Here’s where I seriously question LSU’s strategy at that point. LSU had one timeout left, which Jones called, but LSU had to go the length of the court and hope for a heave.
Instead, I would have saved the timeout, tried to fire the ball to any open Tiger in the front court, and upon the catch would have immediately called time, giving them about 2 seconds to set up a play. At least there LSU would have had a chance at a catch-and-shoot in the frontcourt.
Instead, Hickey was fouled, leaving him in a one-and-one situation. He missed the front end and then LSU had to foul. Even he’d made both, it probably wouldn’t have mattered, but then UK hit two more free throws with a second left and that was that. All of which leaves LSU at 10-7 overall and 1-4 in the SEC with Missouri coming to town Wednesday. If we haven’t learned anything else, every SEC game is winnable the rest of the way for LSU, now that the Tigers have Florida in their rear-view mirror.
But it would be so much easier if they could, as Jones said, come out of the gate playing better. Two touchdowns is a lot to continually overcome in college basketball.
--- Baton Rouge sportswriter and television host Lee Feinswog has been covering LSU sports since 1984 and is the author of three books, two about LSU football. Find him and watch clips from his show at www.sports225.com.