Don't go projecting any Johnny Jones criticisms onto this one November loss.
Marquette eked out the 81-80 win after a valiant LSU comeback, but it was a weird game all around and almost everything went right for the Golden Eagles for 35 minutes. Yet, the Tigers still had a lead in the final 20 seconds and almost stole the win.
I said it during the game, but the stakes were pretty low for LSU last night. I predicted they'd drop a game in this event, so there's nothing catastrophic about it. Indeed, this team will look a lot different once Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor back, so Ben Simmons' beautiful passes aren't landing in the hands of Brian Bridgewater or Aaron Epps.
Speaking of Simmons, I mean, what more can you say? He's every bit of the hype. A 20-20 game in his first outing against a big-time foe? That's just absurd. He was everywhere, flashing his motor, getting his teammates involved, spurring a 10-point second-half comeback and nearly accounting for the game-winner on an absurd twisting runner that gave LSU the lead in the final minute.
Even the LeBron comparisons are spot on, as he was lambasted for not taking the final shot on the last possession. Still, he posted a 21-20-7 line and he would've had a triple double if his teammates could consistently make shots. Amazingly, he really didn't play close to his best. Simmons missed at least four lay-ups near the rim, something he won't do very often this season. Get used to this, folks. He's special.
But now the attention turns to North Carolina State, who fell to Arizona State in another thriller last night. The Wolfpack, of course, bounced LSU from the NCAA Tournament in heartbreaking fashion last season. Even with LSU's lineup being half-freshmen right now, there should be plenty of motivation for this squad beyond just righting the ship after a loss.
The Wolfpack are off to a shaky 2-2 start, also losing to William & Mary at home in the season opener. It's no surprise, since they lost three of their four best offensive options from last season's Sweet 16 team. They only have eight scholarship players available tonight, not a good sign for playing their second game in 20 hours.
That said, LSU still has to tighten the screws in many areas. Perimeter defense was poor against Marquette, as the Eagles guards seemed to get to the paint at will. That was part sloppy rotations, part gambling for steals too much and part plain lazy footwork. The Wolfpack have struggled this season but they haven't had trouble scoring the ball. The Tigers need to force more outside shots and then crash the boards after getting outrebounded by Marquette.
Offensively, Tim Quarterman played easily his best game of the season last night, but LSU's half-court offense was stagnant overall. Antonio Blakeney looked like he was pressing in a pro arena, the rest of the guards settled for 3s way too much and LSU go almost nothing from a post player not named Simmons. Expect LSU to go small and stay small in hopes of getting out in transition early in this game.
This is probably a game the Tigers should win. If they don't, it turns this trip from an optimistic learning experience to a disastrous non-conference resume in the making. In Simmons We Trust.