It appeared midway through the second half on Saturday that LSU’s sluggish non-conference performance, a loss to College of Charleston exactly two months prior and many other disappointing moments would be easily forgotten with one statement victory over the Oklahoma Sooners.
An Isaiah Cousins elbow jumper with 3.8 seconds on the clock erased all the good feelings that were primed to ooze out of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.
The Tigers (13-8, 6-2 SEC), and top NBA prospect Ben Simmons, were unable to finish off Buddy Hield, and the top-ranked Sooners, falling 77-75 in gut-wrenching fashion.
LSU coach Johnny Jones wasn’t satisfied with putting up a gutsy effort against the best team in the country.
“No,” Jones said flatly when asked about a moral victory according to The Advocate’s Scott Rabalais. “We felt if we made plays we had a chance to win, not play close.”
What makes the loss sickening for the Tigers is the lead they ultimately let slip away. LSU controlled most of the action and led by as many as 14 points in the second half.
But as the Sooners made their run, the Tigers faded away. Simmons, the prolific freshman took only one shot after converting a tip-in with 10:01 remaining in the game. Simmons finished with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists on the evening.
Oklahoma outscored LSU, 26-14, during that span. Hield scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including a personal 9-0 run to put Oklahoma ahead, 66-65, with 4:07 remaining.
Jones said his team will need to get the ball down into the paint with more regularity when asked about getting his star freshman the ball more.
“We’ve got to do a better job of feeding the post,” Jones said according to Tiger Rag’s Cody Worsham. “When it’s in there, a lot of good things happen.”
The Tigers came up short once again in a golden opportunity to pad their NCAA Tournament resume. After another close call, Simmons said his team is getting closer to meeting its expectations.
“We’ve gotten better each time,” Simmons said according to Rabalais. “We’re nearly there.”
LSU better get there quick and finish the season strong, or else Simmons could be getting ready to head to the NBA a bit earlier than many in Baton Rouge expected.