Welcome back to our series on the best LSU basketball games of this millennium! Here's the first part, where we listed some honorable mentions and Nos. 9 and 10 of the countdown.
Now, it's on to bigger and better things, like conference championships and NCAA implications (mostly) from here on out as the program, despite some hard times, still managed to win big. Here are Nos. 7 and 8.
8. LSU 58, Texas A&M 57, 2nd Round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament
John Brady was four seconds away from being fired.
Following a drubbing at the hands of UAB in the first round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament and with a SEC championship squad in tow, LSU was losing to a No. 12 seed in the final seconds of a second-round game. There could be no defending this loss. Then, Darrel Mitchell happened, turning Brady's potential ousting into one of the finest moments of his LSU tenure with one flick of the wrist.
It's easy now to forget that there were expectations for that LSU team entering March. As a No. 4 seed in that NCAA Tournament and stocked with both experience or talent on the frontline, the Tigers were surely Sweet 16 or bust. The only thing that prevented most from having LSU as a dark horse for more was Duke's presence as the top seed in the Atlanta Region (Don't worry, we'll get to that one later).
And yet, there was LSU, slogging around with a Texas A&M squad powered by two strong players but had feasted on the dregs of the Big 12. Even the Aggies' first-round win was uninspiring, as No. 5 seed Syracuse had nothing in the tank after Gerry McNamara orchestrated that miracle run to a Big East Tournament Title a week before. The Tigers were a near double-digit favorite.
After building a 10-point lead in the first seven minutes and looking the part of favorite, LSU went cold. Acie Law took over for A&M, overcoming a poor shooting outing to post 15 points and eight rebounds. (The legend of Law as an Aggie was just beginning. Seriously, that guy was a stud. LSU is lucky it didn't catch him the next season, because he was phenomenal as a First-Team All American in 2006-07. Few college basketball players were ever as clutch as he was. The evidence is here.)
But the game settled into a muddled, tight affair. Missed shots were flying. It was a classic case of Brady Ball, as LSU shot 35 percent from the field and 16 percent beyond the arc. Big Baby bailed LSU out most of the second half, bludgeoning his way inside for 11 free throw attempts in a 21-point effort. Despite the Tigers' scoring woes, a lockdown defensive effort meant that neither team led by more than seven points during the final 25 minutes of the game.
That seven-point advantage came via two Mitchell free throws with 3:31 to play. LSU seemed to be in command. Instead, the Tigers didn't score on their next four possessions and clutch buckets by Law and bruiser Joseph Jones put A&M ahead by a pair with under a minute to play. Davis responded with a lay-up to tie it, but Law answered right back with a fall-away deuce, putting LSU - and Brady's job - on the ropes.
Given that LSU was 1-for-11 shooting 3s to that point, conventional wisdom said to go for the tie by feeding Big Baby down low. Well, LSU tried that, but a switch on Davis' high screen meant a pesky guard fronting him. Ah, but that left center Antanas Kavaliauskas on Mitchell. Once the senior guard figured he couldn't get the ball inside, he lulled the big man to sleep and pulled up for an NBA-range trey that propelled LSU into the Sweet 16.
It was the impetus for a run that was a complete red herring and a life-saver for both the program and Brady. Of course LSU went on to the Final Four, taking down Duke and Texas along the way. But Darrel Mitchell's shot will always have a place in LSU lore. It was the perfect example of talent overcoming coaching, a familiar theme for the Tigers' best hardwood moments throughout the program's history.
7. No. 18 LSU 73, Kentucky 70: Feb. 28, 2009
There was a time when Trent Johnson seemed like a savior for LSU basketball.
Bear with me, because it really wasn't all that long ago. Yes, when the Tigers travelled up to Rupp Arena on the final day of February in 2009, there was unbridled optimism around the program. Despite being a senior-laden group in a weak SEC, LSU looked capable of competing with anybody in the country.
Carrying a 12-game conference win streak and the eventual SEC Player of the Year into Lexington, LSU was the big bad wolf in the SEC. Kentucky was in the final season of the Billy Gillespie regime and was playing for its NCAA Tournament life. Not only did the Tigers lock up their own postseason aspirations, they also got to stomp on Kentucky's in the process.
LSU climbed ahead by double digits for a healthy portion of the first half behind a trio of Bo Spencer 3s and led, 36-28, at the break. But Patrick Patterson and Jodi Meeks were lethal to open the second half, and LSU made just one field goal in an eight-minute span. The Rupp crowd came to life and the Tigers were on the ropes with Garrett Temple and Quentin Thornton in serious foul trouble.
Suddenly, Kentucky was up 10 with 10 minutes to play. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, those odds awoke the beast that was Marcus Thornton. The senior guard poured in 15 points the rest of the way, almost singlehandedly willing the Tigers to a four-point advantage in the final minute. It wasn't over yet, as Kentucky rallied with a four-point possession, seemingly leaving the last shot for LSU.
Instead, Tasmin Mitchell's look was too good to pass up. Kentucky switched off Mitchell's screen to clamp on Thornton, leaving Tasmin wide open.Instead of sliding a foot forward for his patented long 2, he cooly nailed the biggest shot of his LSU career from long range with 9.8 seconds left. It capped off a 10-game winning streak and sealed the Tigers' third SEC title of the decade, tied for the most regular season crowns in the league during that stretch.
It was also a quintessential sequence to put the finishing touch on Mitchell's masterpiece in a LSU uniform. He played all 40 minutes, banged with Patterson and Darius Miller in the post on a shorthanded roster and logged 21 points (on 9-of-13 shooting) with five steals and eight rebounds. He was the best player on a floor that included four solid future NBA players, with Meeks and Thornton the two best players in the SEC that year. And yet, there was Tasmin, eschewing his own "one foot inside the line" two-ball special for a 3-pointer and an SEC title.
In the process, he helped that group accomplish something Shaquille O'Neal, Brandon Bass, Stromile Swift and Glen Davis never pulled off: a win in Rupp Arena. Of course, it wasn't the best Kentucky team, as Gillespie was fired after the Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament. But that was LSU's lone win in Lexington in a quarter-century, meaning it's never easy, no matter the quality of that year's UK team. Also, Meeks and Patterson were flat-out studs, matching LSU every step of the way. Yet, Tasmin and Marcus had the answers, something we eventually found out was more about their resolve and talent as players than Johnson's impact on the program.