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POSTGAME: Stephen F. Austin 83, LSU 82

Tigers end up on the wrong side of a great, physical battle

NCAA Basketball: Stephen F. Austin at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Much like the collapse against Notre Dame in Maui the night after winning a tough, well-fought game against Michigan, the Tigers again failed to capitalize on a big win.

We knew exactly what kind of team Stephen F. Austin was coming into the game. They’re physical, they’re rough in the paint, and they’re great at forcing turnovers. They made the Tigers play their game, and ended up on the right side of a wild 61 second conclusion to a fun, evenly matched basketball game.

“They were just more physical than us,” said Coach Wade after the game. “They finished a little bit better around the rim than we did. That ultimately got us.”

From the very beginning of the game, Wade had his fears about the game justified: his team came out flat the game after a big win again. “This is the second time we’ve done this,” added Wade. “This is the same thing. Two steps forward, one step back. We called the timeout because we couldn’t get the ball in bounds, but I could sense that today was going to be a meat grinder so to speak.” Both teams finished the game with 17 turnovers and 10 steals, and both shot just about 49% from the field.

It’s a tough loss, but while it probably should have been a win for LSU, the Lumberjacks just matched up so, so well, and had six days of rest to LSU’s two. I wouldn’t consider this a bad loss at all. We don’t particularly have plans for March, so honestly at this point as long as the team plays a full, inspired game, that’s something to be excited about. When this team lost last year, they would’ve gone to halftime losing and given up right there. It sucks to lose, yeah, but there are definitely positives to highlight as well.

Skylar Mays was an absolute force for the Tigers on both sides of the ball, shooting 70% from the field for 17 points, including 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals. Among those assists was a sweet alley oop, and others showcased how great his vision and knowledge of the game can really be. He had to step up when Tremont Waters started out a little below his standard, and did very well.

“Coach just said that we lost the game three minutes into the game,” said Waters. “You could see that we were lacking on, not so much defense, but overall effort.” Waters might’ve finished with a 19/4/6 stat line, but his first points didn’t come until a pair of free throws with 2:38 left in the first half. It took longer than usual for LSU’s best offensive player to play his game, so they could never really establish their style and tempo.

Aaron Epps had another overall great game, earning his second straight double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. That said, 9 of those rebounds came in the second half, again showing how LSU wasn’t able to play their game right out of the gate. Although the Tigers led for most of the first half, they could never really separate themselves from the Lumberjacks. “We didn’t come out with the right attitude,” said Epps. “We were just kind of out there. We were not as focused as we should have been.”

The last 61 seconds was a crazy mess, and reminded everyone in the PMAC Sunday afternoon how fun or heartbreaking college basketball can be, depending on which side of Toledo Bend you live.

“I think Tre denied the ball really well,” said Skylar Mays. “They were trying to get the ball back to Augustin and it looked to me that he got the ball, so I was heading down the wrong way. I lost sight of my man and Augustin was able to get the loose ball and had Canete down in there wide open and we gave up the layup.” A mere 14 seconds after Waters hit a three pointer to take a late lead, the Tigers found themselves down by one point with only four seconds left. They ran a quick play that actually gave Aaron Epps a fantastic look for a layup, but good shooters miss easy shots sometimes.

“I mean you (can’t) get a better look. We got a layup,” said Coach Wade. “You get a better look a lot of times when the defense is scrambling than if you call something. We got as good of a look as you can get.” But Wade wasn’t willing to blame Epps at all for missing what would’ve been the game-winning layup.

“We lost the game well before the last play. We didn’t deserve for that layup to go in. I know Epps wishes it would have gone in. I know our team did too, but the way we played and with how tough they were—they were down nine in the first half and six in the second half and came back—we didn’t deserve that.”

A tough, close loss like this tends to stick in players’ minds for a while, but they’ll have to quickly shift their focus to the next opponent already coming up on Tuesday night. The Tigers will face the Sam Houston State Bearkats (6-5) in the PMAC in three days, and that game will tip off at 7pm on SEC Network+.