Tough to swallow

After going undefeated at home in conference play the 11th-ranked Tigers ran into a buzz saw on Senior Night. The Vanderbilt Commodores put a damper on the evening by taking a 75-67 victory that made the unveiling of the 2009 SEC Championship banner bittersweet.


Senior guard Terry Martin knocked home a jumper to open the scoring 32 seconds into the game but from that point on the Tigers never led again.


LSU (25-5, 13-2) struggled on the offensive end while the Commodores (18-11, 7-8) looked like a well-oiled machine hitting 27 of 52 from the floor with much of its success inside from A.J. Ogilvy. The six-foot-11, 250-pound center constantly got the ball close to the basket and finished with a career-high 33 points.


LSU had been tested several times over the course of its 13-game conference win streak, but Vandy’s quick start was too much to overcome this time around.


Vanderbilt came out and played hard and played well,” said LSU guard Bo Spencer, who scored 14 points and hit four big threes that kept the Tigers close. “We didn’t come out and get that efficient hit. We came out and we were too lax. They hit us in the mouth first and we didn’t recover like we were supposed to.”


Vandy led by as many as 14 in the first half and took a 37-26 lead into the locker room.


The Tigers came out with a little more fire in the second half and on several occasions they cut Vandy’s lead to six, but could get no closer until Tasmin Mitchell knocked down a pair of free throws with 9:42 left to make it a 53-48 game.


Marcus Thornton cut the lead down to two with his first 3-pointer of the game at the 8:26 mark, and a minute and a half later the senior guard tied the game for the first time since the 18:58 mark of the first half with a three the hard way on a layup and foul shot.


Vanderbilt quickly regained the lead on a free throw by Steve Tchiengang then Brad Tinsley hit a three from the top of the circle to make it a four point lead at 64-60.


Ogilvy hit a couple of free throws and Mitchell hit one on the other end to make it 66-61 before Spencer hit a long range bomb that brought the crowd to a frenzy and made it 66-64 with 2:15 left.


Jermaine Beal, who scored 17 on the night, hit a leaner in the lane to push the lead back to four, but Mitchell cut it to two again with two more from the charity stripe.


On the other end of the floor, it looked as if Spencer was going to come up with a loose ball after some tenacious defense that would have given LSU a chance to take the lead. However, Vanderbilt recovered and found Tinsley on the left side for another huge three that made it 71-66 with 34.5 seconds left.


Spencer attempted another 3-pointer but this time he was off the mark and LSU's 10-game win streak was history.


“We normally come back and give them a good fight back but the ball didn’t bounce our way today,” said Spencer. “Tinsley hit a clutch three but that was a defensive breakdown by us scrambling and trying to get the ball. That was a heady play by him to knock down that three, but we should have never been in that predicament from the get go.”


LSU head coach Trent Johnson honored his seniors by letting all five start with Quintin Thornton getting the call over Tasmin Mitchell and Martin starting in place of Spencer.


No one will say that the approach had anything to do with the outcome because it was obvious that the Tigers, who hit only 21 of 58 shots from the field for 36.2 percent, were not as sharp as they had been.


LSU didn’t hit double figures in scoring until the 8:46 mark of the first half when Garrett Temple, who scored five points, knocked down a jumper. Three of the five baskets were inside with two courtesy of Chris Johnson dunks and the other on a Temple reverse layup.


The Tigers’ top two scorers, Marcus Thornton and Mitchell, were both out of rhythm until late in the first half. Thornton looked like he was pressing early on and he didn’t get on the board until the 7:21 mark when he scored on a baseline move. Mitchell didn’t get his first basket until he knocked down a baseline jumper from 15 feet out more than 14 minutes into the game.


“The ball just didn’t go down for us, which happens for all of us,” Coach Johnson said. “Sometimes you get in situations where you expect Marcus Thornton, Tasmin Mitchell and Bo Spencer to make a shot, but it just didn’t happen and that’s part of it.”


LSU had its problems on the offensive end, but the story of the game was Ogilvy. Too many times he was able to beat Chris Johnson and Quintin Thornton off the dribble, or he would get the ball deep in the paint and score on his jump hook.


“He’s good. He’s good,” Coach Johnson said of Ogilvy. “I think he surprised our guys some with his ability to put the ball on the floor.” 


Marcus Thornton led LSU with 18 points while Mitchell scored 16. Martin scored seven for the Tigers in his final home game, while Chris Johnson scored seven points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked four shots.


Coach Johnson said that the team will get back to work and have a light day on Thursday before leaving for Auburn on Friday for Saturday’s regular season finale.


The key for the Tigers to rebound from their first loss in 39 days and to close the season with a victory according to the headman is pretty simple.


“We have to operate on all cylinders, but these guys have done an exceptional job of competing every possession,” Johnson said. “For us…we have been doing the same thing all year long that put us in the situation where we are the SEC champs.”

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