Texas A&M 83, LSU 73: The Death Knell

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

A Season On The Brink tips over the edge.


The word was apropos for so many different reasons Wednesday night on the rolling plains of Southeast Texas.

Maybe you could have seen it in the stark brown grass that lined the highways leading into College Station. Perhaps the unseasonably cool weather and biting winds outside the arena would remind you of a desolate wasteland.

Surely the sentiment was apt for the paltry atmosphere in Reed Arena provided by the indoor gathering. Calling it a crowd might be stretching it. Seriously, people were yawning in the arena. There was certainly no life in LSU's 3-point shooting, which was a ghastly 6-of-24.

And where it's most fitting? Well, that must be saved for LSU's NCAA Tournament hopes, which aren't even on life support now. Hell, this team might not make the NIT after getting smacked around by a thoroughly uninspiring Texas A&M squad.

You want to talk about lifeless? Have you seen LSU's road "defense?" If you want to call it something else, I'll listen, because teams might as well be playing against the basketball equivalent of tackling dummies when the Tigers come to town right now.

The Aggies entered the game as the SEC's worst shooting team in every respect. They put up 36 points against Florida. For a whole game. Scores more appropriate for high-school games, like 50, 51, 52 and 55, have been the norm for A&M lately.

So of course LSU was the exception. Just like it was for Georgia last week. (But the officials, you scream!) Just like it was at Alabama last month. (But that was just great shooting by Alabama, surely?) How about we even remove the away aspect of it? Okay, well Auburn put up 80 in the PMAC on Saturday. LSU is not a victim of fate here.

A combination of poor coaching, lack of discipline, little court awareness and excruciating communication has doomed this defense, and with it, killed LSU's season. It always manages to come in different ways, too. A&M mauled the Tigers on the offensive glass in the first half, then broke LSU's half-baked press all over the court in the final stanza. Other times, it's been failing to stop dribble penetration or sending teams to the free-throw line too much or ceding the 3-point line. The complete version of this LSU defense is buried somewhere, likely never to be revived.

Dead, as in the term for LSU's ball movement. The complaint about Johnny Jones' offense this season has often focused on a penchant to feed Johnny O'Bryant III too much. No such problem on Wednesday night. Instead, 3-pointers were flying, the guards were leaping off balance for passes and offensive rebounding was sparse. JOB's looks were some of the best LSU had all night before they were, of course, shut down by foul trouble. Instead of following up on the 14 free throws LSU shot in the first half by hammering A&M down low, the Tigers stayed away from the bucket. They played without much of a pulse, with no rhythm and no plan.

While not deceased yet, this program's resurgence is comatose for now. There's no denying Johnny Jones came in and reinvigorated the program. He overachieved with a scrappy bunch last year, has landed some major recruits and started to putt a few more butts in the PMAC seats.

But road games like this should give anyone pause. It's obviously a sign of poor coaching when a team continually fails to produce in away environments, especially the barren ones like Georgia and A&M. LSU has been a favorite in five of its eight losses. Four of those losses have come to teams with a RPI upwards of 100. There's no way around it at this point in the season: Johnny Jones is failing these players.

Of course you'd like to see JOB avoid those inane fouls he picked up within 20 seconds of each other. Of course you want to see senior Andre Stringer make better decisions than the ball he threw into the scorer's table. Absolutely, Jarell Martin's line-drive free throws aren't Jones' fault. The coach can't hold their hands.

However, the consensus from national media to scouts to fans is cut and dry. LSU has major talent on the frontline. There's experience in the backcourt. Jones isn't a fresh face anymore, and his methods aren't fresh, either. His switch to the zone before Kentucky was inspired, but two weeks later and opponents have caught up to it. His presses have become burdens — not to mention predictable — for LSU lately rather than assets, with teams breaking it far too easily.

Last year, Jones seemed a step ahead of the action with his decisions in February and March. He just didn't quite have the horses. This year, the stable is almost full. Yet Jones is making sure the thoroughbreds are dying off fast during this cold winter, always failing to spot the ailments before the symptoms flare up. It's a sickness, and a well known one around these parts.

Yes, LSU has #SECBasketballFever, and a deathly case of it at that. A&M had the honor of putting nails in the Tigers' coffin, one easy bucket at a time.

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