The enigma machine that is the LSU basketball team rolled on Tuesday night, defying both the doomsayers who would bury the Tigers and those who would lay praise at their talented feet.
An 89-85 victory over Georgia was a handy microcosm for Johnny Jones’ high-wire walkers.
It was a show that had a little something for everyone, by turns marvelous, maddening and migraine-inducing. LSU was at times dominant, able to impose its plan to take the game right at the Bulldogs as witnessed by their school record-tying 55 free throws.
But the Tigers made only 37 of those freebies, which translates to 67.3 percent and nearly translated into a meltdown of North Carolina State proportions from last year’s NCAA tournament. LSU let Georgia whittle a 14-point lead with 2:27 to go down to one slender point by clanking free throws and playing soft, afraid-to-foul defense (the inconsistent officiating was partially to blame for that) until they finally came up with a couple of big, brassy, clutch free throws by freshman Antonio Blakeney with 21.1 seconds left. LSU followed that up with a big defensive stop at the other end.
“It’s always exciting,” said Jones, without a trace of sarcasm in his voice.
“I think the team is playing really well. The team is making positive strides. That’s the growth we’re looking for. I think our group is coming together and continuing to grow each night out.”
By fits and baby steps the Tigers are erasing the memory of their disappointing 7-5 pre-Southeastern Conference start with a 6-2 SEC record that finds them in second place, just a game behind Texas A&M after the Aggies lost Wednesday night at Arkansas.
Let the record show that the equally mercurial LSU team of a year ago was 5-3 in conference at this point.
You could have made the argument that the Tigers were looking ahead to Saturday’s showdown at home against No. 1-ranked Oklahoma, except this was LSU’s M.O. all over. The Tigers play in a constant state of attention-deficit disorder (Oh, look, the popcorn vendor) so the Georgia game shouldn’t be judged any different.
“Every win is huge,” said star freshman Ben Simmons, who recorded an almost routine 22 points and 14 rebounds. “Every team we play, we try to win. We don’t try to take them for granted.”
That’s probably true. These Tigers don’t try to play this way, they just do. Call it a lack of fundamentals or a flair for the dramatic, but LSU’s season is sort of like Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. You may be enthralled or dismayed by what you’re watching, but you’re compelled to find out how this book is going to end.
So for all its wild pendulum swings, this LSU team is perfectly capable of pulling off a first-class upset of Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon. This year’s Kentucky team isn’t last year’s Kentucky team, nor is it Oklahoma, but we saw what LSU could do against the Wildcats on its home floor when they turned in their best, most focused effort, resulting in an 85-67 romp.
Just don’t try to understand these Tigers. Simply watch, and be amazed, by whatever happens.
LSU basketball great Shaquille O’Neal spoke at a Los Angeles Lakers’ function Monday night, a move appeared aimed at healing a rift between Shaq Diesel and his former team.
But The Big Aristotle looked like he was turning into The Big Don Rickles by creating a rift with his alma mater, joking (realistically) that he got paid when he played at LSU. He put the cherry on top by joking that his son Shareef, a Class of 2018 prospect, could “probably get a house (and) two cars” if he decided to play at LSU.
O’Neal on Tuesday refuted any notion of wrongdoing from his LSU days, saying he was only trying to spice up a stale banquet (Waka! Waka!). And let the record show in the 24 years since he left LSU there has never been a shred of evidence that O’Neal got improper benefits to play for the Tigers.
There is plenty of evidence we’ve become too serious, to easily offended as a society, but there are some things you shouldn’t joke about. As LSU’s most well-known former athlete, O’Neal should well have known better. Shaq’s banter went global, certainly traveling much further than his plausible denials.
So next time you want to joke about your LSU days, Shaq, poke fun at the food in Broussard Hall or the tiny desks (for you) in the classrooms or the fouls that weren’t called on opponents’ banging on you.
And if Shareef comes to LSU and needs a car and two houses, we’re pretty sure you can hook him up yourself.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.