LSU played a great opening half Tuesday evening but the high powered offense we’ve grown accustomed to seeing all season ran out of gas and the Tigers were eliminated by Michigan 86-78.
The first 10 minutes of LSU’s Round of 32 game went about as well as LSU could have hoped. The Tigers were getting up and down the court and the tempo clearly rattled the Wolverines who prefer a more deliberate pace. At one point Cameron Thomas had as many points by himself, 12, as Michigan did as a team.
But the 100 meter dash LSU was hoping for eventually turned into a cross country meet and the issues that plagued the Tigers all season long, namely rebounding and a true big in the middle, reared its ugly head.
As well as LSU played in the first half, it could never build a lead that felt truly insurmountable. Darius Days gave LSU its biggest lead of the night at nine points, and Michigan immediately responded with a three by Chaundee Brown. Brown would go on to score 21 points in 27 minutes off the bench, spearheading a 26-point effort by Michigan’s reserves; LSU would only get a mere two points from its bench.
Michigan kept chipping away at LSU’s first half lead. LSU scored its 40th point with 4:09 left in the half, and wouldn’t score again until there were two seconds left to play.
Trailing 43-42 at the break LSU would again get out to a quick start in the second half to grab a 51-45 lead but Michigan wouldn’t falter. The Wolverines had an answer for each and every one of LSU’s runs, while the Tigers couldn’t stop the dam from bursting.
Cameron Thomas would give LSU a 63-58 lead at the 10:48 mark and from that point on it was all Michigan. Brown scored 12 of the next 14 Michigan points and the Wolverine defense, already one of the best in the nation in terms of defensive efficiency, put the clamps on LSU when it mattered most.
So LSU’s season comes to an end in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Cameron Thomas finished with a game-high 30 points, while Javonte Smart was right behind him with 27. That was essentially the extent of LSU’s offense as Trendon Watford was able to score 11 points but eventually fouled out, while Darius Days was held to six points. Aundre Hyatt, who had the best game of his LSU career against St. Bonaventure, could only must two points and three rebounds in 24 minutes.
It’s safe to assume the 2021-2022 LSU roster will look entirely different from this year’s. Cam Thomas is certainly off to the NBA, and Trendon Watford will probably declare as well. Perhaps one of Javonte Smart or Darius Days comes back but it’s hard to imagine both will be back for their senior campaigns. This time next year it’ll be Eric Gaines, Jalen Cook and incoming freshman Alex Fudge’s team
The past three seasons have been one of the most successful stretches for the LSU men’s basketball program ever. The Tigers won the SEC in 2019, have finished in the top four of the conference in each of the last three years, and have more SEC wins than any program over that span. LSU made the tournament twice—and surely would have made it last year had there been one—and advanced both times, highlighted by the program’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2006.
Think about how far LSU has come in five years. Five years ago the program was 2-16 in SEC play, and the year before that LSU missed the NCAA Tournament with the eventual No. 1 overall pick on the roster. In four years under Will Wade we’ve seen LSU play meaningful basketball in March the past three years.
Tuesday may be the end of LSU’s season but Wade and his staff have built something in Baton Rouge that will hopefully last to 2022 and beyond. See y’all in November.