No Will Wade, no Javonte Smart, and no Naz Reid proved to be no problem for the LSU, as the Tigers (26-5, 16-2), beat the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-21, 0-18) to claim the school’s first SEC championship since 2009.
The Tigers came into Saturday’s game as co-champions of the league, regardless of the result against Vanderbilt, thanks to Auburn beating Tennessee earlier Saturday afternoon. The Volunteer loss also ensured the Tigers would be the No. 1 seed in next week’s SEC tournament in Nashville. But LSU still had to go out and win a game to be the outright champions of the league and they did just that.
In the first game without Wade leading from the bench, Tremont Waters had to become a coach on the floor and the Tigers had one of their better, more complete efforts of the season and the shorthanded squad got contributions from unexpected places.
For a night, Darius Days and Marshall Graves turned into the greatest three-point shooting tandem in basketball history. Days (5-6) and Graves (4-8) combined to hit nine of 14 three pointers and scored 27 points collectively.
Saturday night in the PMAC was chock full of atypical surroundings. No head coach for LSU. No starting forward or sixth man. And the Tiger performance was equally, and pleasantly, atypical.
On a normal night LSU gets to the free throw line more often and does better than 8-13. LSU also wouldn’t normally shoot 12-24 from three. And hey, LSU wouldn’t normally put away an inferior team as easily as they did Saturday night. But nothing about what happened Saturday was normal.
The PMAC had a sold out crowd and the mood was something that may not ever be repeatable. The crowd cheered relentlessly for nearly every single positive moment on the court, but also mercilessly booed whenever something negative happened.
But the most venomous vitriol from the crowd was saved for athletic director Joe Alleva. The LSU fanbase jeered it’s AD in a way that’s hard to properly do justice. In between chants of “L!S!U!” or “FREE! WILL! WADE!,” the crowd also would chant “JOE’S A COWARD,” “JOE IS HIDING” and “WHERE IS JOE.”
Wade was not on the sideline but was definitely in the PMAC in spirit. Every song Bengal Brass played the student section would mix in a “free Will Wade” chant. Every geaux tigers cheer the cheerleaders would try to start would get hijacked and turned into a Wade rallying cry.
Whatever the future does hold for Wade and the Tigers, the present can at least mask some of the sting of the suspension. After a long decade of ineptitude and underachieving, the Tigers are champions of the SEC once again. LSU’s a top-10 basketball program, undefeated on the road in conference games, and just beat every other SEC team that dared to cross them.
Cut the nets. Print the shirts. Raise the banner. The Tigers are champions of the SEC.