With the way the LSU basketball team has been able to win close games this season, the Tigers looked to be in prime position again Wednesday night. Right?
Since No. 13 LSU had won three consecutive overtime games — each on the road in Southeastern Conference play — it looked good even when its game with Florida was tied at 64-all at the end of regulation.
But when Will Wade’s team went to pull another rabbit out of its hat, nothing was there as 10,976 fans looked on in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Six of LSU’s previous seven games had been nail-biters, and the Tigers managed to prevail in five of them, with two of those coming in overtime.
That earned them a share of the SEC lead with Tennessee going into the matchup with Florida, which already had 11 losses and was desperate for a win to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive.
But as Wade, Skylar Mays and Naz Reid painfully acknowledged later, Florida wanted it more — especially in the five-minute overtime.
The Gators’ 82-77 win dropped the Tigers into a second-place tie with Kentucky in the SEC race with league-leading Tennessee coming in Saturday.
Instead of celebrating a big win and keeping pace with Tennessee, which defeated Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, LSU was left to wonder what happened for one of the few times this season after winning its past four games by five points or fewer.
After winning three overtime games on the road in Southeastern Conference play, the LSU men’s basketball team ran out of magic Wednesday night.
In Wade’s eyes, it was simple. His team’s inability to make free throws and its poor execution, particularly at the end of regulation and overtime, were key.
Giving up too many offensive rebounds was another issue.
“We didn’t finish well enough at the rim, and we didn’t shoot free throws like we normally shoot free throws,” he said after LSU shot 42.9 percent from the field and an uncharacteristically-low 64 percent from the free-throw line. “We just weren’t crisp tonight.
"We weren’t as crisp as we needed to be with our execution and things like that."
One of those things was in letting Florida get to the offensive glass for 10 rebounds after halftime, which the Gators converted into 12 points.
“I thought they really hurt us in the second half on the offensive glass,” Wade said. “That was something that came back to bite us.”
Still, LSU had a chance to win in the final 5.7 seconds of regulation and in the closing seconds of overtime, but poor execution cost the Tigers.
First, in a tie game, Tremont Waters launched a 30-foot shot over the outstretched arms of two Florida defenders with 2.0 seconds left when Mays was open on the left wing and Javonte Smart was free on the right.
This is the end. Or at least how the end will come for the LSU basketball team if the Tigers don’t find a way to shield themselves from teams …
The shot was well off target For Waters, who had buried a long 3-pointer to tie the game at 70-all with 2:44 to play.
“At the end (of regulation), we didn’t execute,” Wade said. “When we got the ball with 5.7 seconds left, we didn’t do what we were supposed to do. We didn’t execute there.”
Then, when Smart came up with a steal with 16.1 seconds to play in overtime and the Tigers down three, he passed the ball to Waters.
Waters, who was just 3 of 12 from the field, dribbled once and let fly a 35-footer with 13.8 seconds left. This one bounced off the front of the rim. The Gators rebounded and made a couple of free throws to survive.
The plan, which Wade drew up during a timeout, was to come up with a steal and get a quick two-point basket to trim the deficit to one point and gain another possession in the process.
“We were supposed to drive it to the basket,” he said. “We wanted to get back in our press and try to turn them over again.”
What's more, Wade wasn't happy when his team didn't match Florida's physicality.
"We told our guys all week Florida was going to give us unbelievable resistance, and I don't think some of our guys believed us," he said. "Some of them just thought we were going to be able to show up and kind of do what we do. That wasn't the case."
As frustrated as he was in letting a game slip away, Wade was more disappointed for the fans after losing at home for the second time in the past three games.
Before a 90-89 loss to Arkansas on Feb. 2, LSU had won 18 straight in the PMAC.
“I feel terrible for our fans and people who put their money (out) to come and watch us play,” he said. “It’s sickening to me … sickening to me. It’s absolutely sickening.”