LSU’s SEC tournament road ends quickly, but promise awaits

In the future, no one will remember there was once an SEC tournament in St. Louis. Heck, based on the crowd size for LSU’s opening round game against Mississippi State, no one remembered it was there this year.

Tthey’re also bound to forget the days of LSU basketball as a non-factor in the postseason. The Tigers were one-and-done in Will Wade’s first postseason appearance, falling 80-77 to the Bulldogs. But don’t count on that becoming a habit.

Thursday’s heartbreaking loss was a good indicator of why that will be the case. Wade’s team battled all the way back from a 19-point deficit to pull within 1 with under 10 seconds left.

In fact, LSU could be primed for a tournament run as early as next week. LSU’s 17-14 record should be good enough for the Tigers to earn a bid to the NIT.

As a tournament, the NIT is a bit of a crapshoot. Most teams are disappointed to be left off the NCAA tournament bubble and fail to show up mentally even if they are present physically. Of course, the last time the Tigers were invited to the NIT they decided to take not showing up quite literally, turning down the bid to bring a premature end to Ben Simmons’ lone, tumultuous season in Baton Rouge.

Even though that was just two years ago, those days are long gone. The players in this program are hungry. You don’t turn around from a dismal 10-21 season with mostly the same cast of characters without a strong will to succeed.

LSU probably needed a win to assure itself of a home game in the NIT. That opportunity was squandered a number of ways against the Bulldogs, who looked like they’d blow the roof of the building by hitting 9 of their first 11 3-point attempts.

Once the game finally got close, LSU’s miserable showing at the free-throw line started to sting. The Tigers were just 57 percent (8 of 14) from the line. A late lane violation on the front end of a Tremont Waters 1-and-1 made a massive difference in the outcome. So did LSU’s inability to foul any Mississippi State player as the Bulldogs ran the final seconds off the clock. Waters had just made a miracle 3 to cut the deficit to 1 with 8.9 seconds left, but LSU never got the opportunity to shoot for the lead because it couldn’t corral any Bulldog dribblers.

The ending was a pretty good summation of Wade’s first year at LSU. A hard fight, but a team that isn’t quite ready for making winning plays in primetime.

Fortunately, the Tigers will likely have another opportunity to learn coming up next week.

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