LSU’s Vernon Norwood cruises to win in 400 meters at NCAA meet _lowres

Photo by Bryan Wayne/LSU Sports Information LSU's Vernon Norwood finishes ahead of the pack to win the 400-meter dash at the NCAA Championships on Friday in Eugene, Ore.

EUGENE, Ore. — Vernon Norwood had two goals in mind when he signed with the LSU track and field program as a decorated junior college transfer from South Plains (Texas) College two years ago.

The Morgan City native wanted to win a 400 meters title, and, more importantly, help his home state Tigers win a national championship.

On Friday, because of an avalanche of points from host Oregon, LSU didn’t have much of a chance in the team race.

But with lots of help from Norwood, the Tigers recorded a top-five finish for the 14th time in the past 16 seasons in the men’s finals at Hayward Field. The women’s finals will be contested Saturday.

Oregon won its second title in a row with 85 points, while Florida was a distant second with 56. They were followed by Arkansas with 53, LSU with 45 and Southern Cal with 40½ to round out the top five.

LSU finished in the top 10 for the 18th consecutive season dating to the 1998 meet, the longest active streak in the NCAA.

Norwood, who claimed the 400 meters title at the NCAA indoor championships in March, made it a double when he ran a patient and solid tactical race and secured the outdoor title with a time of 45.10 seconds on a windswept day.

He also ran second leg on the Tigers’ 4x100-meter relay team that finished third with a season’s-best time of 38.62 seconds and capped his collegiate career in style by anchoring their 4x400 relay team to a win in 3 minutes, 1.96 seconds.

LSU might have had a shot at finishing higher in the team standings.

But Rodney Brown, who was undefeated in the discus this season and was the national leader heading into the meet, finished a disappointing ninth at 191 feet, 5 inches — 12 feet shy of his school-record of 213-5 — and didn’t score.

“We had a great meet … the only disappointment for me, personally, was the disappointment I felt for Rodney Brown,” LSU coach Dennis Shaver said. “He wasn’t able to have a good day today. Other than that, I thought it was a great meet for us.”

It certainly was for Norwood, especially in his final two races of his college career — the 400 and mile relay.

Norwood conserved his energy early in the first 200 meters and turned on the speed in the second half of the race to blow it open after Texas A&M’s Deon Lendore, the 2014 indoor and outdoor champion, pulled up after 100 meters with an apparent hamstring injury.

“I pretty much did what coach Shaver wanted me to do,” Norwood said. “There was going to be a lot of wind in our face on the back stretch, so the strategy was to get out (with Lendore) and keep it close and then have a lot for the finish.

“It (stinks) to have an injury like that in your last college race,” Norwood said of Lendore, an Olympian that he’s battled for the past two seasons. “It gave me a lot of confidence when he pulled up, but I still had to focus and stay with my strategy. You don’t want to see that in any kind of meet.”

Norwood came back about 90 minutes later to team with Quincy Downing, Fitzroy Dunkley and Cyril Grayson to claim the title in the 4x400 relay.

Taking the baton from Grayson in second place, Norwood produced an anchor split of 44.97 seconds in running down Florida anchor Najee Glass in the final 150 meters and cruised to the finish line after getting clear in the home stretch.

“I just wanted to go out the right way,” Norwood said. “We had to get points on that relay, and being able to go out with a bang, getting the relay title, was real important to me and my team.”

LSU started the day by finishing third in the 4x100 with Joshua Thompson, Norwood, Tremayne Acy and Aaron Ernest taking third place.

The Tigers also got fourth places from Thompson in the 110-meter hurdles (13.34 seconds) and Downing in the 400 hurdles (49.79).

Acy and Ernest helped set up LSU for its fourth place when they raced to a 4-5 finish in the 200 meters. Acy clocked a time of wind-aided 20.04 and Ernest followed in 20.11 seconds.

“This means a lot to me, just being here,” said Acy, a sophomore who ran a wind-legal personal-best 20.17 in the semifinals on Wednesday. “I didn’t qualify in an individual event last year, so I’m still in shock at my times.”

“The performances were indicative of our work that we put in,” Shaver said. “There were a lot of personal bests, and we came out with two championships (the 400 and 4x400), so it was a great meet for us.”

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.