SEC Florida LSU Basketball

LSU interim coach Tony Benford talks with his players in the second half of the Tigers' 76-73 loss to Florida in the SEC Tournament on Friday, March 15, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — This loss is on you, Will Wade.

LSU lost to Florida 76-73 here in the Southeastern Conference quarterfinals, and of course, Wade wasn't there.

And sure, the Tigers played two overtime games with Florida during the regular season, winning one and losing one. So in that sense, it was no surprise that these teams were locked in such a desperate struggle once again.

But if Wade had been coaching — and nothing against interim coach Tony Benford and the rest of LSU’s remaining staff, who are in the trenches doing their level best — do you think the Tigers would have been whistled for 24 fouls to the Gators’ 10?

Do you think Wade would have thought of something, some adjustment to keep LSU’s 13-point lead with just under 17 minutes left from completely melting away?

Do you think maybe the officials would have been reluctant to whistle him for a technical, as they did Benford, leading to two of the six points Florida scored on one decisive trip down the floor with 3:45 remaining?

But again, Wade was not there. He is back home, issuing defiant, attorney-crafted statements about how he won’t talk to LSU officials but wants to coach again anyway. Like LSU is denying him his civil rights, along with $2.1 million in bonus money, the part of his contract LSU is currently not paying him. (Wade is staying home scraping by on his $400,000 base salary. I would be willing to stay home and not work for half that).

To which LSU officials are forced to play the enormously unpopular role of tough parent and say “No!”

Meanwhile, Javonte Smart, all of 19 years old, had to get on the podium after the game and answer questions about whether he had any knowledge of the offer Wade is reportedly discussing on the FBI wiretap with now convicted criminal Christian Dawkins.

Smart said no, he did not. We don’t know what Wade has to say about the matter because he is in hiding, the wanted man, more and more likely to have coached his last game for LSU.

There is no denying, though, if Wade is indeed done at LSU, he will certainly have left his mark on the program. Ultimately, all this glory, all this gore, all this magical season, all this mess, all of this is on Nashville’s own Will Wade.

He is the architect of so many of the Tigers’ dreams as well as their nightmares.

Wade is the reason LSU assembled the kind of team that could win the SEC regular-season championship, in what is labeled the toughest season in the conference in years.

Wade is also the reason LSU has been nationally embarrassed.

Wade is the reason the Tigers have the kind of glittering talent that could take them all the way to the Final Four.

Wade is also the reason they won’t get there if he isn’t around to lead them.

Florida nails late three, bounces No. 9 LSU basketball out of SEC Tournament in quarterfinals

Oh, sure, LSU — which could have been an NCAA No. 2 seed with a good showing here but now will be relegated to a 3 seed, maybe a 4 — still has all the tools to win a regional, regardless of its seed. But at some point, the distractions will break their backs, and they will wind up short of that mark. Short of their breathtaking potential.

Talent counts for most of what it takes, and Wade amassed a treasure chest full of it on this roster.

But coaching also plays a role, a guiding hand to admonish even a great player like Tremont Waters. With 22.1 seconds left, Waters rolled the ball past the timeline to save clock — but it rolled so far that Waters had to be bailed out by the alternate possession rule on a tie-up. A steady, familiar voice like Wade's may have helped him there, or other players elsewhere.

You can criticize LSU athletic director Joe Alleva and LSU President F. King Alexander if you wish. Certainly both have history of setting themselves up as targets for scorn and ridicule.

But neither of them, nor anyone on the LSU Board of Supervisors, nor an overzealous LSU booster forced, Wade to get on a phone back in 2017 to reportedly complain to Dawkins about the difficulty of landing a commitment from Smart.

Maybe Wade should have smashed his phone instead like Conor McGregor.

Maybe next job.

But no one is going to get weepy on LSU and Wade’s behalf. 

LSU’s postseason hopes are not without hope. A deep NCAA run is still within the Tigers’ grasp.

But without Wade, the prospects are dimmer. As is the program’s long-term future.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​