So this is what a road win feels like?
It's hardly a satisfying breakthrough moment, despite the Tigers ending a seven-game losing streak away from home. This wasn't a warning shot to the rest of the SEC. No one will fear LSU because of this win. Instead, this was picking up the crumbs, still waiting on the feast that is a reason to be excited about this team. LSU avoided losing. That's the best terminology here.
I'll give a mild bit of credit where it's due, though. LSU looked like a defeated team late in the first half. WIth little left to play for and trailing by 14 on the road, the Tigers could have packed it in. They didn't do that, marching back into the game with a spurt at the end of the half and then matching Vandy until grabbing control late. That's the biggest positive sign from this game. LSU still has a little fight in it.
The other positives were few but significant. As my friend Matt Zemek is fond of saying, March is #FreeThrowAwarenessMonth and the Tigers answered the bell at the stripe, shooting a solid 79% on 24 attempts. If LSU is to have a shot at anything next week in Atlanta, free-throw shooting will need to be an asset, not a liability.
Secondly, Johnny O'Bryant III played through some hacks and often triple teams to have a monster game. Yes, he still committed some sloppy turnovers, but JOB was LSU's offense most of the game. He played point guard from the post and more often than not made the right play. He dropped 25 and 10. While not quite ho-hum for him, it's still not a surprise now. It's Vanderbilt, though, which is thin on the frontline and does not match up well with LSU. The Tigers need the mentally-tough, all-energy O'Bryant of tonight in the SEC Tournament.
That was about it for positives. The negatives stood out strongly, as a pungent sense of #SECBasketballFever permeated through Memorial Gym all night. The game was eight kinds of ugly, fueled by missed shots, roughhousing defense, erratic whistles and all kinds of slipping. It's actually stunning the two teams only combined for 21 turnovers.
LSU shot a season-low 33 percent, but Vanderbilt was worse, making only 30 percent of its field-goal attempts. Basically, the Tigers dropped a C- or D+ game that would have earned them a loss in 9 or 10 other SEC gyms. Thankfully for the Tigers, the Commodores delivered a D- on their Senior Night test.
Georgia is up next for LSU's own Senior Night in the PMAC. The Dawgs rolled up 91 points a month ago against the Tigers, getting to the free-throw line at will and truly starting LSU's spiral down the standings. While LSU has been solid as can be in SEC homes games, UGA will be playing for the No. 3 seed and a double bye - not to mention being on the other side of the bracket from Florida - in the SEC Tournament.
As it stands, LSU is locked in to somewhere between the 6 and the 8 seed in Atlanta. A win would almost guarantee a 6 slot. If the Tigers had just pulled out one more game, be it one of the overtime losses to Ole Miss and Kentucky or the late loss at Bama, Saturday would be for that all-important double bye. LSU squandered those games. The Tigers didn't squander anything against Vanderbilt, but they also didn't exactly seize the moment, either. It's March now. They won't get away with that again.