clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Top 10 LSU Basketball Games of This Millennium: #6 and #5

Join us for a weekly series as we review this generation's LSU hardwood classics.

Marcus Thornton drives to the basket during LSU's second-round NCAA Tournament games vs. North Carolina in 2009.
Marcus Thornton drives to the basket during LSU's second-round NCAA Tournament games vs. North Carolina in 2009.
LSU Athletics

Welcome back to our series on the best LSU basketball games of this millennium! Here are the first and second parts, where we listed some honorable mentions and Nos. 10-7 on the countdown.

We're reaching the big-time games now, although there may be a few surprises in store. Here's Nos. 6 and 5.

6. North Carolina 84, LSU 70 (2nd Round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament)

That's an awfully lopsided final score, and it's a game that LSU lost anyway, right? What's it doing on this list?

Pay no heed to the 14-point final tally. The Tigers gave the eventual national champion and arguably the strongest team of this millennium everything it wanted in a de-facto road game.

It's easy to forget, but LSU was no average No. 8 seed. It's still the lowest-seeded champion from a "BCS" conference in the 64-plus team era of the NCAA Tournament. But there were four future pro players wearing purple and gold, including SEC Player of the Year Marcus Thornton.

In the first round, LSU shook off a pesky Butler bunch that was a year away from consecutive championship-game appearances. The No. 1 seeded Tar Heels awaited in Greensboro, a mere 50 miles from Chapel Hill, as the favorite to win the national title. Think LSU playing in the Superdome, and that's about equivalent to North Carolina in an in-state NCAA Tournament game.

That doesn't even touch on Carolina as a team. The Tar Heels returned four starters from the 2008 Final Four squad, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough. Add Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, Marcus Ginyard and Tyler Zeller to the mix and that's a juggernaut. Indeed, they performed like one, absolutely steamrolling to the '09 title. No one challenged them.

Except for LSU.

Twelve first-half points by Tasmin Mitchell kept the Tigers even through the game's opening minutes. Carolina turned it on near halftime, exploding for a 13-4 run in the final minutes before the break. Consider it foreshadowing.

LSU wasn't done, and that was largely thanks to Thornton. He delivered a virtuoso performance in the second half, a shooting display to cap off a prolific scoring season LSU hasn't seen the likes of since Chris Jackson.

Mitchell sandwiched a trio of deuces around a Thornton layup, and LSU's nine-point halftime deficit was down to a single point. Thornton started to assert himself from there. He added another layup and a dunk before the 17:00 mark, and the Tigers didn't trail for the next seven minutes.

That's a feat in and of itself. No other team, not Oklahoma, Michigan State, Villanova or Gonzaga was ever within five points of the Tar Heels in the second half of that NCAA Tournament, much less led them. And there LSU was, holding a 57-56 lead with 10 minutes left.

That advantage came courtesy of Thornton's first in a string of three straight 3-pointers, shaking off Ellington and Green for some incredible triples. No one could guard Marcus Thornton for a few minutes. No Tar Heel is losing sleep over the performance, considering they won the title, but I guarantee you they won't forget Thornton. No LSU fan should either, not after he poured in 55 points over two games during the Tigers only trip to the tourney since 2006.

An off-balance fadeaway Thornton 3-ball tied the game up at 63 with eight minutes to play. Yes, a roster with Quintin Thornton, Terry Martin and Bo Spencer in the top seven had this juggernaut on the ropes.

It couldn't last. A couple Thornton 3s clanked, Hansbrough started getting to the foul line and Lawson - who was nursing an ankle injury - turned on the jets as the Tar Heels pummeled a spent LSU squad during a 17-2 run. The dream was over.

But this game deserves a place in the pantheon for Thornton's incredible display and LSU's tenacity, a trait absent from the rest of Trent Johnson's teams. That team deserved a better draw than a "road" game against the best team in the land. Despite not having the proper seed, the Tigers still played like they belonged.

5. LSU 66, No. 3 Florida 56 (Feb. 24, 2007)

In many ways, this game was an inverse of the one chronicled above. The UNC loss was a great team getting a raw deal but still pushing the eventual national champions to the brink in a meaningful game.

Beating Florida was the lone bright spot for the 2006-07 team, an ultimately meaningless accomplishment for a group that began the year as a top-10 team.

For one game, though, LSU played like one.

The Gators came into the PMAC that day as undisputed favorites to repeat as national champions, one year after claiming the title as an unheralded No. 3 seed.

They didn't leave the PMAC as title favorites, though that would not matter. Florida, behind Joakim Noah, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Corey Brewer, would end up as the only team since Duke in the early 1990s to win back-to-back national championships.

And that's what makes this triumph special, regardless of it being surrounded by the Tigers tank job in going 5-11 in the SEC. Beating a truly great team is the reward in itself.

It was all made more impressive by the absence of Big Baby. That's right, Glen Davis missed this game with injury, leaving LSU with Magnum Rolle and Darnell Lazare to deal with Noah and Horford, a pair of first-round draft picks. The duo was up to the task, as UF's formidable big men combined for just 17 points and 12 boards - a paltry night by their standards.

Meanwhile, LSU exploded to a 28-13 early lead, weathered an early second-half storm and scored 15 of their last 18 points at the foul line to hang on in front of a surprisingly raucous PMAC.

There was no dramatic finish or wild individual performance here. Hell, Terry Martin led all scorers with 18 points. No one will submit this game for any beauty pageants. This was still important, the last great gasp of the Brady Ball era and a team one year removed from the Final Four playing for one afternoon like it, and not just Florida, should have gone back.