Ole Miss 88, LSU 74: With a Rebel Yell

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

LSU couldn't close out what would have been a huge road win. Instead, the Tigers dropped a heartbreaker in OT, raising some serious questions about the program's future.

Gut punch.

That's what this game was for LSU. No, the NCAA Tournament hopes aren't severed yet (though it's desperation time). But the Tigers' disheartening overtime defeat furthered their House of Horrors history in the Tad Pad and affirmed a lot of suspicions about this team's deficiencies.

It all starts with that half-court offense. Without a consistent way to get shooters open, LSU is lost when the defensive pressure amps up down the stretch. It happened at UMass, it happened at Texas Tech, it happened at South Carolina and it happened Wednesday night against the Rebels.

Hell, Andre Stringer scored a career-high 23 points and didn't ATTEMPT a field goal between the 16:00 mark of the second half and the final minute of overtime. Johnny O'Bryant III was reckless and miserable inside. Jordan Mickey wasn't much better. These are all signs that Johnny Jones and LSU have almost no clue how to create good looks for its best players when the game is on the line. JOB's extreme regression of late should be especially concerning. He had 6 points against Ole Miss.

Coach Jones had a fairly remarkable first season at LSU, one that probably should've ended with a NIT bid.. But with talent upgrades at nearly every position this season, the Tigers are one game better through 15 contests than they were last year. That's it. It's fair to start questioning Jones' coaching and wondering if its true to Daddy Dale Brown's style of recruiting and motivating, while lacking in Xs and Os.

Though LSU toned down the foul trouble after a miserable first half that saw FIVE Tigers (four starters and Stringer) sit with two fouls, that was bad enough. It continued a brutal fouling trend on the road. In four away games, LSU has recorded 102 fouls (25.5 a game) and had 24 players (6 per) record at least three fouls, causing them to miss significant action. The Tigers probably beat the Rebels if they're not missing half their team for the final 5-10 minutes of the first half.

Despite what the final line says, Marshall Henderson had about as quiet of a 20-point regulation as possible, often being forced to toss dimes instead of drill treys. But surprise reserve Sebastian Saiz manhandled LSU, tossing in 20 points and snagging nine boards. Meanwhile, Mickey had a measly 2 points, Malik Morgan was so bad as a starter that he got benched after two fouls in four minutes. And Anthony Hickey was nowhere to be found offensively after starting the game with an exhilarating burst.

All of this obscured what could've been an extremely positive night for LSU. Remember, if Hickey's last shot in regulation falls, there's a drastically different narrative here. As is, Stringer broke out of his funk in a big way, Jarell Martin again came up huge at the 4 and even Shane Hammink played some stellar defense on Henderson in the opening half.

Instead, it's another frustrating loss at the Tad Pad in a sea of them for LSU, one that significantly damages the Tigers' postseason hopes. (Good riddance to that place, seriously. LSU is 4-10 there since 2000.) There are three games left against Florida and Kentucky. Win one of them and the margin for error eases a bit. But if those teams handle LSU as expected, there's maybe one more freebie, if that. Otherwise, the NCAA Tournament drought will reach a half decade, the longest non-probation streak at LSU since the 1970s.

But as an ardent chronicler, observer and follower of the program, just as frustrating is the perception fallout from this loss. On Twitter, there seemed to be two separate schools of thought. One had LSU as a program still on the rise and setbacks like this happen. Besides, at Ole Miss is not a loss to embarrassed about, right?

I fall closer to the other side, which saw this as emblematic of the program's maddening inconsistency this millennium. At least two, maybe even three players on this team should play NBA ball one day, and they are complemented by some experienced, dynamic guards. There's no excuse for this kind of lethargy in the last two weeks, where getting outrebounded by 8 against a smaller Ole Miss frontline actually feels expected.

As far as jokes go, the tired trope about "First pitch is X days away," is perhaps my most despised among the LSU faithful. I always point out that there's a basketball team to support, hopefully with a similar fervor currently reserved only for the baseball and football squads. Games like this make it harder to say that and expect anyone to listen.

Box Score


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