The game appeared out of LSU's reach just minutes after it started.
After a shocking upset to Green Bay earlier this week, Marquette started the game on a tear. By the first television timeout five minutes into the game, the Golden Eagles led LSU 17-3. Th lead ballooned to 21 points (43-22) with five minutes left in the half, but Johnny Jones's squad showed surprising resiliency. They cut the lead to 13 points by halftime and brought the lead down to single digits in the opening minutes of the second half.
LSU even tied the game up at 58, before falling short of their comeback, losing 84-80 after some clutch free throws by Marquette's center, Devante Gardner. The Golden Eagles were led by their explosive backcourt of Junior Cadougan (17 points and 6 assists) and Vander Blue (17 points). Gardner added nine free throws, many in the game's final minutes, as Marquette pulled out the victory
Although the loss drops LSU to 7-2, there are some positives the team can take from the defeat. First, the team showed mental toughness by responding positively to a horrendous start that saw the team miss nine of their first ten shots (which included seven three-pointers). Equally important for the long-term outlook, it seems as if point guard Anthony Hickey is back in his coach's good graces. Hickey came off the bench but played a lion's share of the minutes, while leading the team in rebounding and contributing 18 points and 4 assists.
And we learned who Jones relies on when his team is facing seemingly insurmountable odds: Andre Stringer, Charles Carmouche, Shavon Coleman, Johnny O'Bryant, and Hickey. Stringer was particularly sharp, hitting six of his ten three pointers, and Carmouche showed off his passing skills, dropping nine assists. Despite being an undersized group, each of the players received 30+ minutes on Saturday, and we should expect to see the same unit in crunch time for many SEC games over the next ten weeks.
However, there are problems that need to be addressed if LSU wants a chance at a winning record in the SEC. The team tends to live and die by the three-point shot. Although the Tigers rebounded from the rough start and knocked down almost half of their three-pointers in the final 35 minutes, they are overly reliant on shots from long distance, especially considering their mediocre team average (36.2%) for the year.
As the team has relied less and less on Eddie Ludwig and Jalen Courtney, it leaves O'Bryant has the only player on the team who has a traditional big man's game. Against a perimeter-oriented side like Marquette, this flaw can be partially shielded, but bigger teams like Kentucky, Florida, and Ole Miss should be able to exploit favorable mismatches.
Although LSU is going to face significant challenges in conference play, Tiger fans should have increased confidence in their team after the Marquette game. By cutting down a huge lead in a matter of minutes and continuing to go on solid mini-runs in the final eight minutes of the second half, LSU showed they have both heart and the potential for a dynamic offense.
Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to pull off a memorable comeback in Milwaukee.
LSU finishes its non-conference slate with games against lowly Houston Baptist and Bethune-Cookman the next two weeks.