Everything seemed to disappear for LSU all at once.
Cam Thomas’ score.
The presence of Darius Days inside.
The semblance of defense the Tigers have played in these promising playoffs.
Michigan’s intensity was like the heat of southern Louisiana next summer. Tirelessly. Stifling. And LSU’s hopes were like the February ice storm that swept through our state. Great, but lacking in hold.
Like the snows of yesteryear, LSU came out of this NCAA tournament with a very entertaining but, for the Tigers, ultimately frustrating 86-78 in their Round of 16 Monday night inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
This is the building where the Final Four will be played in two weekends. The Tigers got carried away with the intention of staying in Indianapolis for that long, and with their offensive skill level, they had a chance to do so. The Wolverines certainly looked more vulnerable than any other regional No.1 seed with their second-leading scorer, forward Isaiah Livers, suffering from a stress fracture in his foot.
But Michigan still had options that LSU couldn’t answer. The Tigers did a commendable job limiting the damage of Michigan’s 7-foot-1 center Hunter Dickinson, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Even without Livers and Dickinson’s dominance, the Wolverines outscored the Tigers 26-2 on the bench, led by 21 from goalie Chaundee Brown.
“Chaundee Brown is a great player,” said LSU coach Will Wade. “We knew it. It’s a great team, the way they move and keep. They are going to be extremely difficult for everyone.
It was a gag-filled NCAA tournament in the opening rounds for the Big Ten teams, with No. 1 seeded Illinois leading the way falling on Sunday in their second-round game against the giant. became a giant Loyola-Chicago. But Michigan refused to succumb to the same fate despite a flurry of punches from an LSU team who clearly had confidence in their ability to build another upheaval.
In the end, the Tigers’ will was there, but the bodies let go. The LSU bench has provided little valuable support all season. Javonte Smart and Cam Thomas both played the entire game and Trendon Watford played 35 minutes before fouling late.
“Our guys played hard,” said Wade, “gave it their all. I’m proud of them for everything they’ve accomplished this season.
“We came to fight,” said Smart, “but our energy ran out. They just passed us in the end.
The undersized Tigers showed they weren’t outscored, but a consistent, overpowered Michigan offense proved too difficult a challenge as LSU f…
It was a gallant effort from LSU’s backcourt battery, however.
Thomas paid 30 points. According to CBS, he’s only the fourth freshman to score 25 or more points in his first two (and in his case, the last two) games of the NCAA tournament, a roster that also includes the Pelicans’ Zion Williamson when ‘he was at Duke and future Hall of the famous Kevin Durant in Texas.
But as Thomas’ game waned, Smart kept up the pressure LSU was able to put on Michigan. The Baton Rouge junior, also probably playing his last game as a Tiger, could have taken his No.1 jersey and affixed it to the March Madness logo mid-field like an old warrior laying down his sword, as he has left all he had. on the floor. Smart finished with 27 points. If any LSU player deserved a better fate than seeing their season come to an end, it was him.
At first, however, it looked like the Tigers were going to make Michigan just another of the many upset casualties that have left smoldering craters in the brackets of ball tournaments across the country.
Most of the first half came at a breakneck pace, with LSU dictating the conditions. The Tigers led to nine, 30-21, bombing with a 3-point foursome while somehow managing to avoid flipping the ball just once.
This last statistic may have turned out to be a little worrisome for the Tigers. They played about as well as you might expect – avoiding self-inflicted injuries and serious fouls, making good passes and playing tenacious defense. But it took a midrange jumper from Thomas just before the buzzer at halftime to pull LSU down to one, 43-42, after leading most of the top 20.
“The game got away from us at the end of the first half,” Wade said with his trademark franchise. “We had a good working margin for most of the half and then we lost one. We had a drought of 4 to 5 minutes. We took the lead in the second half by 6, but they made two huge 3s when we had bad fences. “
In the end, it was the Tigers who were knocked out by a superb Michigan team that has as much of a chance as any surviving team to advance to the Final Four.
But it took the best of the Wolverines to do it. At a time when LSU and its basketball program are the subject of nationwide criticism and shouting, no one can say the Tigers haven’t given their best.