CONWAY, S.C. - LSU basketball coach Trent Johnson didn’t need to wait for the final buzzer to decide he had seen enough Tuesday night.
The final seconds were still ticking down in the Tigers’ road game at Coastal Carolina as Johnson shook hands with Chanticleers coach Cliff Ellis after seeing his team upended by the mid-major program from the Big South Conference for the second year in a row.
After toppling the Tigers in overtime in Baton Rouge last December, the Chants hosted the rematch in cramped Kimbel Arena - an outdated 1,039-seat facility more akin to a high school gym - and needed only regulation this time to secure a 71-63 win.
Johnson soon made his way to the media room and wasted no time getting right to the crux of his frustration.
“The game was decided on the glass. It’s hard to win playing anybody when you get outrebounded 53-34,” he said. “I thought their energy was really, really good, and we didn’t sustain a consistent 40 minutes playing good basketball and putting a body on people. So there was your basketball game.”
Johnson said he didn’t address that 2010 overtime loss to Coastal Carolina this week because he was more concerned with the flaws he saw in the Tigers’ 96-74 season-opening win over Nicholls State on Saturday.
“I didn’t even talk about last year. My message to this group after our first game this year was we need to do a better job on the glass. We need to do a better job at the point of attack,” Johnson said.
That will be a message he’ll have to repeat. Two Coastal players set career highs in rebounds, while the visitors squandered an early nine-point lead and had to battle back from a 14-point second-half deficit.
The Chants (3-0) are coming off back-to-back 28-win seasons under Ellis, but the program has not made the NCAA tournament since 1993 and was just 2-10 against Southeastern Conference entering the rematch with LSU.
“I don’t get caught up in that,” Johnson said. “You’re talking to a guy who played at Boise State University. You’re talking to a guy who has been a head coach at Nevada and a few other places. You’ve got five guys on any other team that want to compete and want to win just as bad as you do. So there’s a lot parity in college basketball-always has been.”
Ralston Turner led LSU with 15 points, while Storm Warren had 14 points and nine rebounds.
The Tigers (1-1) jumped out to a 16-7 lead less than eight minutes into the game, but that advantage would be long gone by halftime.
Coastal closed the first half with 11 straight points to conclude a 21-5 run that sent the hosts into halftime ahead 34-24.
Jordan Griffin helped key that first-half surge for the Chants with career-high eight points on 3-of-3 shooting, including two 3-pointers.
Coastal’s lead peaked at 48-34 early in the second half.
Turner scored seven points, Justin Hamilton had five and Warren added four as the Tigers surged back to within a point at 52-51 with more than six minutes left. But they never got closer.
After freshman Johnny O’Bryant III dunked to make it 63-60 with 1:20 remaining, Coastal scored the next eight points.
“Last year they were a tough team, and we expected the same thing coming into this year,” Turner said. “They were going to be just as tough if not tougher. We expected this to be a grind-out game, and unfortunately we came up on the bottom end of it.”
Anthony Raffa led the Chants with 20 points and added a career-best 10 rebounds, and junior forward Sam McLaurin had 13 points and a career-high 16 boards for the hosts.
The Tigers will try to regroup as they stay in South Carolina while opening play in the Charleston Classic on Thursday against Northwestern.
“The disappointment is that we didn’t win the game, but now we’ve got to put it in the past,” Warren said. “We can’t turn back the hands of time, so we have to sit down with our coaches, learn from our mistakes and come out next time prepared.”