Justin Hamilton scored a career high 21 points for LSU, but it was a turnover in the final minute that the junior center will remember about Monday night.
Up against one of the biggest frontcourts that the Tigers have faced in No. 21 Virginia, Hamilton shined the brightest, going 9-of-14 from the floor while grabbing nine rebounds with four blocked shots.
With 51 seconds left, Hamilton scored to cut the LSU deficit to 54-52. The Tigers then made the crunch time stop on the defensive end, seeing Ralston Turner come up with the blocked shot before Hamilton pulled in the loose ball.
Seconds later, Virginia had the ball back and were at the free throw line.
“I got the rebound and I pivoted and I turned right into his arm and lost the ball,” Hamilton said.
The Cavaliers knocked down one of two free throws, and Turner found an open 3-point look to tie the game with 15 seconds left.
The ball went down and bounced out, and a season’s best crowd of 8,810 fans went silent and headed to the exits.
LSU coach Trent Johnson liked the shot by Turner, but still felt something was left desired from an execution standpoint – which became the story of the losing effort according to the headman.
“Usually when we call a free throw line run it and we told them down three we were going to flatten the floor and that put our high post where our post guy for an on ball and just dribble weave it with the three perimeters,” Johnson said.
“Anthony (Hickey) did a good job. Andre (Stringer) could have taken his guy down and come up higher, but regardless Ralston (Turner) came off of it and got a good look and just did not go down. Our overall execution is 50 percent of the time okay, but you can't beat good teams and good players when it is just 50 percent of the time.”
The Tigers were outrebounded 32-26, and despite limiting Mike Scott – one of the ACC’s best – to 12 points and nine rebounds, Virginia was able to get a 17-point effort from guard Sammy Zeglinski and a 14-point effort from guard Joe Harris. Beyond Hamilton, no LSU player got into double-digits in points, and no Tiger hit the double-digit rebound mark.
“We talked about how a basketball team like this is very solid, very sound, and very well coached,” Johnson said. “If you are not disciplined defensively then you do not close out the shooters and they will make you pay.”
Johnson circled three of Virginia’s six 3-point buckets as key moments for the Cavaliers, beginning with Zeglinski’s 3-pointer that broke a two-minute scoring drought with 3:25 left and ending with Harris’ answer to Anthony Hickey’s 3-pointer with 2:07 left in the game.
“It was just a mental break down on our part of not seeing ball, of not seeing man,” Johnson said. “There was no special play ran. What I mean by that is we got them into a late shot situation.
“We were in a situation where we had an opportunity; we just had some breakdowns. It is a team thing and it needs to get corrected and we will correct it and we'll move forward.”
Despite the loss, there was a positive for the Tigers.
Sophomore guard Andre Stringer, who had been sidelined the month of December after fainting during a team walkthrough, played 24 minutes and helped pace LSU with eight points in the first half.
“(Johnson) told me earlier this morning,” Stringer said. “He said he felt good about and, of course, I did. My family did too. The doctor said I was good to play, so I suited up."
“It was great to get back and I felt great out there, but obviously, it doesn't feel really good right now.”
For the players, who were much less talkative than usual at the post-game press conference, it’s about closing the book on the non-conference season and turning the focus to SEC play.
“We have Ole Miss (Saturday) and we're going to put this behind us,” Turner said.