Such a waste.
A big crowd. A big lead. A chance to establish some big-time momentum and stack up more interest in your program in the tight window of attention span that LSU fans give basketball between the end of football season and the start of baseball season.
All frittered away on a beautiful Saturday. It was like taking your boat out on University Lake, having it spring a leak and watch it gradually sink to the bottom.
That was LSU’s 67-64 loss to Texas A&M.
No explosions. No collisions with an iceberg. Just the slow melting of a once-commanding advantage.
After they got up 58-47 with 9:49 left on a drive by Jarrell Martin, the Tigers offense couldn’t come in from the cold. LSU was outscored 20-6 the rest of the way as the Tigers failed to get both the clutch baskets against the Aggies’ zone or the clutch stops they needed on the defensive end.
There’s a late-game John Chavis joke in there somewhere, but when it comes to LSU basketball this is no time for levity.
“We got lazy,” said guard Keith Hornsby, who had a great look at a 3-pointer that would have forced the Tigers’ third overtime in four Southeastern Conference starts, only to watch it rattle off the rim with about 1.5 seconds left. “We got this big lead and let it slip away. It’s so not like us.”
Unfortunately, Keith, it is just like your team.
This is a recurring flaw with these Tigers. Whenever they have a chance to really seize the day, they stumble and fumble.
They needed to go to the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands and avoid some RPI-killing defeats. They came home having lost two out of three.
They needed to start Southeastern Conference play with a “We have arrived” statement at Missouri. They were knocked off in overtime.
They came back from Ole Miss with a strong conference road victory against a team that nearly beat Kentucky in Lexington. Then they lose to the Aggies, a respectable team that also took the Wildcats to the limit, but no threat to make the NCAA tournament.
A few more losses like this, and LSU won’t be an NCAA threat, either.
The season, especially the SEC campaign, is still young. As are the Tigers, who are 13-4 overall and 2-2 in conference play.
There are 14 conference games left. I recall an LSU team that started 1-3 in the SEC and peeled off wins in 11 of their next 12 games to win the regular-season championship.
But the Tigers have played enough games to establish a pattern.
It’s sort of like the New Orleans Saints this past season. Everyone kept waiting for the light to come on. But after enough of the same kind of defeats kept piling up, you realized what kind of team they were: a team that didn’t have it in itself to be better.
LSU has some glittering pieces. Martin and Jordan Mickey are a dynamic duo inside. Hornsby and Tim Quarterman can be outstanding, though Quarterman is a combined 3-of-13 from the field with 12 points in the Tigers’ past two games after being named national player of the week Monday. Saturday, it was Jalyn Patterson’s turn to shine off the bench, dropping in 13 points with a trifecta of 3-pointers, though it wasn’t enough.
There is something missing with this bunch. Call it heart. Call it a lack of urgency. Call it leadership. You watch LSU and are left with the distinct impression that the Tigers basically play for the sake of playing, but whether the game winds up a win or loss doesn’t have a huge bearing on their mental outlook.
Hornsby said he wouldn’t sleep Saturday night. The Tigers need more of that kind of anguish that makes losing so unbearable to accept.
“I think it has a lot to do with the youthfulness of our team,” coach Johnny Jones said, “the lack of understanding that once you get up 10-11, we have to grind it. We were looking for the home run play.
“We’ll continue to grow and learn, but it’s painful to have setbacks like that.”
Only painful at this point. But ultimately fatal if the Tigers don’t learn how to finish — around the rim and on the clock.
The clock is ticking for LSU. Ominously. The conventional wisdom says LSU needs to win 11 or 12 SEC regular-season games to earn the program’s first NCAA bid since 2009.
I’d wager if LSU goes 11-7 in SEC play to finish the regular season 22-9 overall, the Tigers will need to win at least one game in the SEC tournament to earn an NCAA seed line on Selection Sunday.
Plenty of games left to get that done. But now the Tigers find themselves in a tremendously vulnerable spot with road games at Florida and Vanderbilt up next week.
The margin for error crumbles a little more with each defeat.
That’s why Saturday’s loss was such a bad one for LSU.
That’s why it was such a waste.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.