Apologies for the delay in getting to Wednesday’s recap, I was having serious laptop issues. But my laptop’s issues were nothing compared to the problems LSU had in Memorial Gymnasium Wednesday night.
The Tigers (17-5, 8-1) completely faceplanted Wednesday evening in Nashville as LSU allowed the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-13, 1-8) to snap a near-two year long losing streak in conference play.
Defense has been the question mark for LSU all season long and Vanderbilt exposed it in the worst way. Three different Commodores set career highs in scoring. Saben Lee and Maxwell Evans in particular tortured LSU all night long as the pair of junior guards scored 33 and 31 points respectively.
Lee and Evans beat LSU in different but complimentary ways. Lee would weave in and around the Tiger defense knocking down lay ins, floaters and up-and-under scoop shots along the baseline; Evans, who had 20 points in the first half, was unconscious from distance, hitting seven threes.
“Saben Lee had us spinning around like a top,” Will Wade said. “I’m happy for them. They have been playing hard. They kept working. The kids kept fighting. They deserved to win.”
The game was in Vanderbilt’s control for essentially the entire game. LSU scored the opening points and had a brief 8-7 lead four and a half minutes into the game; from that moment on, Vanderbilt would blow past LSU and lead by as many as 13 points.
The Tigers showed flashes of potentially regaining control of the game and escaping with yet another close victory. Skylar Mays scored five consecutive points in the first half’s final 40 seconds to cut a 10-point deficit in half; Mays then stole the ball on Vanderbilt’s opening possession of the second half, made a lay up and the Commodore’s sizable lead was suddenly down to one-possession.
The second half turned into a boxing match as the teams traded counter punches till the end. Vanderbilt would build its lead back to seven or eight and LSU would respond by getting it back down to three or four.
LSU even grabbed a late second half lead, scoring seven unanswered points to go up 83-80 with just under six minutes to play. But Vanderbilt would outscore LSU 19-7 and made its final five shots, and as a result ended a historic losing streak.
LSU was atrocious in every aspect of the game. The Tigers had 10 turnovers, committed 21 fouls and insisted on shooting threes when its counter-intuitive to what makes LSU successful. While Vanderbilt went 12-30 from three, LSU shot 4-18 and missed its first eight attempts. That LSU insisted on shooting a shot that would not fall was downright maddening. LSU is one of the best teams in America shooting inside the arc; trading twos for threes wouldn’t have been the worst plan, but the Tigers tried to get in a three-point shooting contest and lost.
Wednesday night was arguably Will Wade’s worst loss as coach of the Tigers. Say what you want about East Tennessee State, but ETSU is leading its conference and is likely going to earn an invite to the NCAA Tournament. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, hadn’t won an SEC game since March of 2018; and because of this inexplicable loss, Saturday’s game against the No. 11 Auburn Tigers is critical if LSU wants to repeat as SEC Champions.