We played well early in the game, and it was back and forth for the first 12 minutes or so. I actually thought we had a good game plan coming in. We played a zone defense and double and triple teamed Johnny O'Bryant forcing some turnovers. We played an inside out game and got some open perimeter shots to fall.
Unfortunately, Coleman went off from 3-point range against us. LSU has a very talented roster, and based on the odds, we picked the right poison so to speak. In order to play the type of zone we were trying to play (and double when we went man) it was necessary to leave somebody open on the perimeter. Coleman is not their best 3 point shooter and he had been struggling of late. Historically, a lot of teams have struggled to shoot in the dome, so I had no problem with our emphasis on stopping their inside game. You have to give LSU credit for making us pay, and Coleman credit for making the shots.
Making those first few perimeter shots may have ultimately been a bad thing for us. I thought Coop and even Releford a couple of times settled for some bad contested jump shots too early in the possessions. While we started the game playing with a lot of confidence, all of that went away and we looked tentative once we encountered some adversity. We had about a 5 minute scoring drought in the first half that allowed LSU to take an 11 point lead into halftime.
Watching the earlier game in Tuscaloosa, we got out to a great start playing uptempo and shot really well, but when LSU started playing and pressing they made a run and we were lucky to hold on. I felt then that they were the better team, but they made some dumbfounded coaching decisions in the first 25 minutes of that game. They were a bad matchup for us not only because of their size, but because their guards are so good at handling pressure. We were burned nearly every time we tried to press, and that killed our ability to speed up the tempo.
I thought the team played with good effort, but so did the more talented Tigers. We never got the lead back to within 2 possessions in the second half. We had a few chances, but once again we missed free throws, failed to convert open shots, and allowed second chance points at inopportune times. On some of those missed free throws, one by Cooper and one by Taylor that sticks in my mind, we didn't even bother to have someone on the lane to try to get the rebound. I understand how unlikely it is that this team could get a rebound on a missed free throw, but we should have at least had somebody there to try. Given how many games we've lost this year due to giving up offensive rebounds on missed free throws, it's certainly worth a shot.
With about 5 minutes left in the game, LSU made back to back 3s to stretch the lead back to 15. At that point, I went ahead and cancelled my Atlanta hotel reservations and sold my tickets for tonight's session to Kentucky fans, because I knew our season was over.
On the bright side, Jimmie Taylor had another solid game. He held his own with Bryant, and scored 9 points with 5 rebounds. Shannon, Levi, and Relly all finished in double digits. We weren't out rebounded as badly as I feared, 38-31, and actually had one more offensive rebound than they did, but we couldn't finish around the rim.
Up next, the offseason for us, as there will be no postseason tournament bids for this team. Despite our absence, I am really looking forward to the NCAA tournament this year. I truly believe there are at least 15-20 teams that have a legitimate shot at winning the whole thing, depending on how the matchups shake out. It's truly the most wonderful time of the year, and maybe one day soon we can be a part of it again.
I know Bobbyjack is working on a state of the program type post. I will wait till he gets it up before I post my own annual end of season manifesto either as a separate post or in a comment to his.