This one hurts.
LSU fought back from a 19-point deficit in a matter of minutes, only to implode again in the final minute on the road. It was more costly than Ole Miss. Alabama is a sub-.500 team, and the first win in Tuscaloosa in 10 years would have meant serious momentum and a three-game winning streak heading into Tuesday night's game against Kentucky.
Instead, we're left with more questions and some preposterous facts about that game and this team. LSU had five scorers in double figures and lost. How do you post 57 points in a half and lose? What is it going to take for this team to beat any decent team on the road? Is there a talent deficiency or a coaching deficiency? What in the world were those last few offensive possessions? And finally, the Tigers shot a 46.8/43.8/75 line, forced more turnovers and outrebounded the Tide. They still lost.
While Johnny Jones' coaching got blistered for a 23-point first half (and somewhat rightfully so), this was a defensive disaster through and through. Alabama had scored 80 points three times before Saturday night: vs. Drexel in three overtimes, against Stillman College and vs. Mississippi State. That LSU allowed 80 against such an offense is downright dreadful.
LSU routinely allowed the Tide guards to penetrate the paint, which staked them to a large halftime lead and put Johnny O'Bryant III out of the game with foul trouble for much of the first half. Even when the Tigers started forcing turnovers with the press, Alabama shooters were routinely open for 3-pointers.
Like in Oxford, the defense broke down most noticeably at the most crucial times. Against the Rebels, it was a four-point lead with just over a minute to play. This was more systematic, less fluky. After LSU took a 71-68 lead on JOB's dunk with 4:56 to play, the Tigers scored on five more possessions. Alabama scored on the ensuing trip each time.
And then there's those the offensive sequences. LSU ran a set to O'Bryant in the post, and he scored to put the Tigers ahead at the 1:12 mark. So what did Johnny Jones draw up on the next possession? THE SAME SET. After a timeout, no less. Andre Stringer eventually committed a completely baffling turnover, and the next possession was bailed out by Stringer drawing contact on a 3-pointer. Then, Anthony Hickey didn't even get a shot off after miraculously finding open space near the free-throw line on the frantic final trip.
In the last month, teams have caught on to LSU. Beyond feeding the post, there's little to no rhythm on offense. No plan, no movement and little concern about it. Jones has consistently trotted out almost exactly the same offense. You can get away with that, even for long stretches of the game, due to some decent talent and the ability to score in transition. In this one, the Tigers used some nice 3-point shooting, a relaxed Alabama interior and that ferocious press to spur the brilliant second-half comeback.
When a game gets tight though? Defenses clamp down. Half-court possessions make or break close games. And for the third time in as many weeks, LSU failed miserably to produce on those money trips. All the talent Jones is capable of bringing in can't fully alleviate stale sets against a prepared and/or athletic defense down the stretch. Either utilize some player's skill sets differently or overhaul the offense.
(Sidenote: That paragraph sounds harsh on Johnny Jones, and it is. But there's a big difference between questioning CJJ's Xs and Os and already calling for him to be on the hot seat, which I've seen on Twitter and [redacted terrible website]. Just stop. He won more games in his first year than Trent Johnson did in his fourth and final season at LSU. This year's squad already has more wins than the back-to-back 11 win campaigns of 2009-10 and 2010-11. It's ridiculous this even needs to be addressed.)
Still, this game just slowly twisted the knife in through everything in its path for LSU. Surely the players. Definitely the fans watching, most of whom got sucked back in by LSU's 18-6 run midway through the second half. And most likely the Tigers' postseason aspirations. Already flimsy due to losses against Rhode Island and Ole Miss, LSU's resume will be laughed at for NCAA consideration (barring wins vs. Kentucky and/or Florida) now.
This could've been a program changer, as crazy as that sounds considering Bama was 8-10 entering the contest. When you haven't won at a venue in 10 years, that comes to represent your shortcomings as a program. LSU's had some major success on the hardwood in the last decade, going to a Final Four and winning two SEC titles. No, those teams didn't win in Coleman Coliseum, either. Yet, this team had all the advantages entering Saturday's game, intangible and matchup-wise. That it again ended with a loss just means LSU is still a far cry from being the consistent contender fans started hoping — no, believing — Johnny Jones would have already delivered.