You almost had me suckered in, Johnny Jones.
Before I go any further, I would like to say that the jury is still decidedly out on this team. I wrote in the preview that I expected a close game and that Missouri was an improving club, despite its early woes. That played out in kind, and it's hard to be disappointed in what you basically expected.
However, let me be very clear that this is the kind of loss that brings harbingers that maybe this Tiger team isn't so different from the last 15 years or so of LSU basketball. This was a loss that stunted an 8-game winning streak, halting any momentum LSU had before conference play really could even get into the swing of things. More than that, it's the latest in a long line of games or runs that completely robs the program of fan support, belief and excitement.
This is not new. No, this is the norm for LSU basketball in the last decade or so. There was 2004, when LSU was riding a 5-game winning streak and had aspirations for a good NCAA Tournament run. Boom, spanked as a ranked team by Auburn in front of 11,000+ in the PMAC. That 2005-06 team that made the Final Four and won the SEC? Lost five non-conference games, meaning most of that title run was played in front of 7,000 people at home. How about the next season, fresh off a Final Four run? Lost 9 of 10 SEC games en route to a 5-11 league finish. You may (or may not, if you're lucky) remember that Trent Johnson's clubs followed up that 2009 SEC championship with two straight 11-win seasons.
Even last year, LSU dropped consecutive ugly home games to Rhode Island and Tennessee and blew late leads at Ole Miss and Alabama in January, pulling the plug on expectations and fanfare before they could even begin. This is simply not a program that handles even moderate expectations well.
The story appears unchanged this year. After a solid out-of-conference showing this season, there was every reason to believe this team had turned a corner, meaning we would finally get to the accelerated success part of the Johnny Jones tenure. Let's pump the brakes on that.
Instead, LSU dropped a game that looked all too familiar. On the road, against an inferior team, with sloppy play, long scoring lulls and just dumb basketball. I said I couldn't be too disappointed since I expected a close game, but the way LSU managed to play down to a 6-7 Missouri team that entered the game without a good win, in the 170s in RPI and without its second leading scorer honestly kind of disgusted me.
There were the 19 turnovers, sure. Apparently, the Tigers had frostbite on their fingers from the bitter cold outside, because their dribbling was unhinged and inexplicable. Or that pillowy interior defense that allowed a parade of Mizzou dunks. Or how about the fact that Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey each picked up at least one dumb foul, probably two in Martin's case. He fouled out during LSU's 2-point overtime, when it managed to miss every single shot it took from the field. There's the fact LSU blew an 11-point lead in the first half and a seven-point lead in the game's final minutes.
All in all, LSU showed the maturity level of a high-school JV team. Hell, you can't even blame the environment, since Missouri had its lowest crowd for a conference game in years with a half-full gym of 7,000 and few students. Josh Gray apparently forgot how to play point guard for the night. Martin was reckless on offense and careless on defense. Mickey was relentless on the glass but had no finesse on offense, turning it over six times, not to mention a 1-for-7 night at the line. Tim Quarterman keeps hoisting up shots he shouldn't.
About the only player I have any praise for is Jalyn Patterson, who performed admirably off the bench in the first half and didn't hurt LSU down the stretch. I'm neutral about Hornsby, who delivered that big 3-pointer to force overtime but was also ineffective in OT and careless with the basketball all night.
This may seem like an overreaction and I get that train of thought. I really do. I don't think LSU's season is over and done with, goals already out of reach. They've shown they're good enough to win a game at West Virginia, easily one of the 20 best teams in the country. They wiped the floor with their previous three opponents. They're still gelling - especially since Gray missed three weeks of action - and SEC play is a tough time to be getting your bearings. This doesn't spell doom just yet.
However, this loss clearly fits in the pattern of LSU basketball in recent years, specifically under Jones. A sloppy road loss to a team that doesn't have the kind of pro talent he has at his disposal, with many chances to take control of the game but ultimately a loss to show for it. In a vacuum, this loss wasn't apocalyptic or even horrendous.
Within the context of this program, though, it looks more like a sign of things to come than a blip on the radar.
Hope I'm wrong. They've got another chance to start suckering me in Saturday night at home against a solid Georgia squad.