The LSU basketball season came to an end Friday night in the Capital One Center. It ended not with a bang, but a whimper as the Tigers were thoroughly outplayed by Michigan State right from the opening tip.
The Spartans got off to an 8-0 start two minutes into the game and forced LSU interim coach Tony Benford to call a timeout. The Spartans (31-6) got their first five points from Aaron Henry and the other from Cassius Winston before Tremont Waters could get LSU (28-7) on the board with a layup underneath the basket.
The opening few minutes were indicative of what was to come for LSU. The Spartans were unbelievably hot from three-point land, but were also out-muscling the Tigers and grabbing what felt like every single rebound. When the halftime buzzer sounded, Michigan State had 21 rebounds to LSU’s 10. The Spartans had as many offensive rebounds, ten, in the opening half as LSU did total, which led to 12 second chance points for Michigan State.
It looked like Tremont Waters might have been able to get LSU back in the game on his own accord. Waters hit a three to close the half and cut the deficit to 12, and another three to open the second half to get the game within nine. Those six points sparked an LSU rally that got the Tigers back within four points and for two minutes of game time, it looked like LSU was about to pull off an improbable comeback.
But the spark was snuffed out as quickly as it was it ignited, and Michigan State responded with an 11-0 run to push the lead back to 15 points. LSU was able to play some semblance of its style of basketball in the second half, the Tigers out-rebounded Michigan State and got 18 of its 35 points in the paint. But it was all for naught as Michigan State absorbed LSU’s blow and outplayed the Tigers until the final buzzer mercifully sounded.
There’s hardly any positives to take from tonight’s game. Tremont Waters was the lone bright spot with 23 points and hit some threes well beyond the three-point line. Naz Reid had 10 points but missed all five of his attempted threes and his only two free throws. Kavell Bigby-Williams had 11 points but wasn’t the same presence inside the painted area that he normally is. Javonte Smart got the start over Marlon Taylor and scored zero points. I suppose if there’s any relief in the season ending at least it ended in a blowout and not by a heartbreaking a buzzer beater.
Michigan State, on the other hand, had several stellar performances. Cassius Winston was his usual excellent self with 17 points and 8 assists. But two Spartan freshmen were the stars of the night: Aaron Henry had a scoring outburst with 20 points and Gabe Brown put on a shooting clinic with four three-pointers.
For LSU, a season that started with tragedy and shrouded by controversy towards the end is now over. The Tigers’ future is a peculiar one. Naz Reid is expected to declare for the NBA. Tremont Waters could leave for the league, too. Kavell Bigby-Williams won’t be suiting up for LSU next season. And we still haven’t gotten to the program’s embattled head coach Will Wade. We know for sure Wade will take the witness stand in about a month. Everything after that is uncertain. Maybe he’s back, maybe he’s not. Maybe this season ends up getting completely vacated and the program goes back to its usual cycle of mediocre at best ball every five to ten years with a pretty good season sprinkled in occasionally.
But instead of fretting about what may or may not come let’s instead celebrate this basketball team and all they accomplished. There won’t be a new Final Four banner unraveled next fall, but this 2018-19 team might be the most beloved, fun squad in recent program history.
LSU lost a brother before the season started. They had its head coach suspended on the eve of the regular season finale. And despite all that, the Tigers went 9-0 in road conference games, beat every SEC team this year, won the league’s championship and made it to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend for the first time in 13 years.
Whatever the future holds for LSU basketball, the 2018-19 Tigers should be forever remembered as the group that made basketball fun in Baton Rouge once again.