Wednesday night may not have pounded the final nail into the closing coffin that is LSU basketball’s NCAA Tournament hopes, but there is little doubt the Tigers are all but dead.
Johnny Jones’ team followed Saturday’s 81-65 loss at Tennessee with a demoralizing defeat at Arkansas 85-65, a game in which the host Razorbacks shot 63.3 percent and scored 51 points in the second half.
Ben Simmons recorded his 19th double-double of the season for LSU, scoring 23 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. But Simmons also committed five turnovers, made just 11 of 18 free throws and was assessed a technical foul by Pat Adams -- yes, that Pat Adams -- with 2:02 left, which gave the freshman his fifth and final foul.
To be fair, LSU was without starting guard Keith Hornsby, who re-aggravated a sports hernia injury, and key reserve Aaron Epps (flu). But it’s been always something for the Tigers, who less than two weeks ago were atop the SEC standings. Now, LSU has lost three straight games and four of its last five.
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What seems obvious is the Tigers lack of toughness when things get tough. Tennessee scored 50 second-half points on LSU in Knoxville on Saturday. Arkansas held just a 34-32 halftime lead before the Razorbacks went hog wild in the second half as LSU made just nine of 30 shots from the floor.
51-33How much Arkansas outscored LSU in second half
On the night, Arkansas outscored LSU 48-20 in the paint. Big man Moses Kingsley scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for Mike Anderson’s team, which is now just 14-14 overall and 7-8 in the conference. Arkansas shot 54.1 percent for the game. LSU shot 35.1 percent. Tim Quarterman missed eight of his nine shots. Jalyn Patterson was just two-of-10.
With Simmons, the nation’s No. 1 freshman if not best player, and fellow heralded freshman Antonio Blakeney, plus valuable veterans in Hornsby, Quarterman and transfer Craig Victor, LSU started No. 21 in the AP pre-season poll. Alas, the Tigers would remain a ranked team just two more weeks before falling out to stay.
As Jeff Eisenberg writes for Yahoo, it sure looks like Simmons’ lone college season will end in the NIT.
Now ranked 89th in the RPI, LSU returns to Baton Rouge to play Florida on Saturday and Missouri on March 1 before finishing up at Kentucky on March 5. Then there’s the SEC Tournament in Nashville. If the Tigers don’t cut down the nets in the Music City, their NCAA door may have closed.
LSU men’s basketball in SEC play
* SEC/Big 12 Challenge