TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Not often do you get a chance for a minor dose of redemption two days after being humbled.
That was the opportunity the LSU men’s basketball team encountered Wednesday night when they ventured to Coleman Coliseum to take on Alabama.
Granted, none of the Tiger basketball players had anything to do with the loss to the Crimson Tide in that other game Monday in New Orleans.
The fact that they took the court with “LSU” on their chests was at least a connection, though. A chance to help Tigers fans at least spit out some of the lingering bitterness.
Well, history didn’t exactly repeat itself, because this game was more competitive for much of the first half and a patch of the second. But the bottom line was hauntingly familiar.
Using a suffocating defense and efficient offense – recognize those phrases? – the Tide churned past LSU 69-53.
Trevor Releford led Alabama (13-3, 2-0 SEC) with 20 points, Tony Mitchell logged a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds and the Tide survived the Tigers’ second-half comeback bid to win in a breeze.
LSU (11-5, 1-1) closed within 40-32 on Storm Warren’s move in the lane with 14:26 to go, the last of a 6-0 surge that created some drama.
Unfazed, the Tide rattled off the next 11 points as part of an 18-5 outburst over 7:17 that blew the game open.
“We took a couple of plays where we actually attacked and when we attacked we were successful,” said Tigers guard Andre Stringer, who notched a team-high 13 points and did what he could to keep LSU in range with three second-half 3-pointers. “Our inability to do it throughout the game is what hurt us. When we cut it to eight, things happened and we never could get back.”
What happened was that Alabama rediscovered its offensive groove. After missing three shots on two possessions to swing the door open for the Tigers to get closer, the Tide went for the knockout by scoring on seven straight possessions with Releford setting the pace with five points, including a three-point play when he came up with a loose ball with several bodies hitting the floor for both teams, and a nice feed to Mitchell for a slam dunk.
The Tide lead ballooned to 60-39 with 6 minutes left, prompting the Alabama student section to chant “Just like Monday” to rub salt in the still fresh wound of a 21-0 loss in the BCS Championship Game.
Whether that fueled the Tigers’ frustration or it was just an eighth straight loss at Coleman, Trent Johnson was in an irascible mood afterward.
“The bottom line is, for whatever reason we were sluggish,” he said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t play like we were capable and that’s not their fault. That’s probably on me in terms of it took us a while to get going in terms of attacking, being in an attack more.”
When a reporter asked Stringer a seemingly innocuous question about what impact the spirited Alabama crowd had, Johnson intervened before the sophomore could respond.
“What game were you guys watching?” Johnson said with an edge in his voice. “What game were you watching? When kids miss open shots and kids make unforced turnovers, let’s see what … it is what it is. I’m not taking anything from (Alabama), but it is what it is. I mean my goodness.”
In the opening 12 minutes, the Tigers hung around despite seeming out of sync.
LSU struggled to score, missing 12 of 19 floor shots and turned the ball over 11 times before halftime, often without Alabama doing much to create the problems.
Mitchell pumped in five unanswered points to forge a 13-13 tie and reserve Ben Eblen broke down the Tigers defense for a driving layup to give the Tide the lead for good, 18-16 at the 8-minute juncture.
After Stringer slashed through the lane for a short shot at the 8:52 mark, LSU didn’t hit another field goal in the half and trailed 31-19 at the break. Alabama converted the Tigers’ miscues into 19 points to match LSU’s total output. Leading scorer Justin Hamilton produced only 4 points and 1 rebound in the initial 20 minutes.
“I would’ve like to have had us play a little better, but for whatever reason we were real sluggish and real tentative to start and then we had some unadvised unforced turnovers that put us behind the 8-ball and obviously getting behind the 8-ball against a basketball team like this makes it tough and we never could recover.”
Johnson groused when asked about the spate of first-half turnovers, rattling off six of them before stopping himself not to single out players.
Moments later when asked if his team’s struggles were tied into playing on the road in the SEC for the first time, Johnson again got cranky.
“No it’s just basketball,” he grumbled. “Sometimes you have a good day, sometimes you have a bad day. But the bottom line is when I have a guy who is breaking in space and he drops the ball or I have a guy who has a wide-open shot and he misses it, you know like I told them at half, we need to settle down. We’re putting ourselves behind and that’s the bottom line. It’d be different if a lot of turnovers were caused because we were attacking the rim and they stripped us. I’m not taking anything away from them, but my goodness. So we move on. They were better (Wednesday).”
LSU’s next chance to be better comes Saturday when it travels to Arkansas for an 8 p.m. tipoff. The Razorbacks lost at Ole Miss Wednesday after opening SEC play by beating then 15th-ranked Mississippi State last week.