LSU just quit.
First on the basketball court Saturday, gliding like a phantom through a 71-38 loss to Texas A&M in the SEC tournament semifinals, one of the most embarrassing losses for any LSU team in any sport ever. Then Sunday, when LSU dropped a bombshell announcement that it would voluntarily end its season, ostensibly declining a bid to the National Invitation Tournament before it was even offered.
There is simply no other way to describe it. LSU said “no mas,” throwing in the towel on a 19-14 season that occasionally provided thrills but mostly dished out frustration like Ben Simmons dishes out assists with his brilliant passes.
What does it mean?
Well, for certain it means Jim Hawthorne’s 36-year career as LSU’s radio play-by-play announcer is over. Bet he was already preparing to call a game this week in the NIT somewhere, a game that will never come. It’s truly sad that his decades behind the mic will end this way.
Almost certainly it means Simmons’ college career is over. I only write “almost certainly” because Simmons hasn’t announced his inevitable decision to turn pro. Instead of cutting down nets or at least dancing into the NCAA tournament as virtually everyone predicted when he arrived on campus, he will fade into the shadows of a secluded gym and work on his game while waiting for his NBA lottery pick and gigantic shoe-deal millions to come his way.
And it likely signals that Johnny Jones faces a make-it-to-the-NCAA-tournament-or-else directive next season.
In a statement, Jones took responsibility for not getting LSU into the field of 68 this season and said the work for getting there next year starts now. That’s admirable. It’s hard for anyone to admit, essentially, failure.
But without Simmons and heart-and-soul senior guard Keith Hornsby — and maybe Tim Quarterman and Antonio Blakeney if they decide to go pro, too — the truly hard work starts now. That begins with how to attract another recruit the caliber of Simmons (or Blakeney, a five-star prospect himself) anytime soon, considering how this season went.
On one hand, this could be for the best. It certainly brings an odd brand of relief. LSU was probably going to be sent on the road in the NIT and as such would probably have been quickly dispatched into one-and-done oblivion. And playing in the NIT, even winning it, would not have erased the overriding sense that this was a season of supreme disappointment.
That said, it’s hard to condone quitting, no matter what the circumstances and no matter what potential embarrassment another loss might have brought. It’s true LSU was without Hornsby and, according to Jones’ statement, maybe an ailing Blakeney, too — at least for what would have been the Tigers’ NIT opener.
But you’re supposed to compete, supposed to do the best with what you have, even if the odds seem impossible. Supposed to try. There are teams out there whose seasons have ended not by their own choosing that would walk across the country for an NIT bid.
There have been a few impossible dreams answered in March, you know. And LSU, whose 1986 team still shares the record for the lowest seed (No. 11) to reach the Final Four, has authored some of them.
But maybe Jones looked at his team’s noneffort Saturday in a game in which LSU’s NCAA hopes were still a living and breathing possibility and decided there was no point. Apparently, Jones felt March was just going to bring another nightmare, one that he and his team weren’t willing to face. The decision to end the season was Jones’, said athletic director Joe Alleva, who declined further comment.
In a way, LSU’s decision will take some luster — certainly steal some ink and air time — from Southern making the NCAA tournament as the SWAC tournament champion. And that is a genuine shame. The Jaguars’ story is a remarkable one, fresh off the end of NCAA APR sanctions that kept Southern out of postseason play the past two years.
Would that LSU had such an excuse.
Instead, the Tigers simply took their ball and went home, insuring their season won’t be remembered for what it was, but for what it was not.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.