By now the story has played out in each way imaginable. The LSU basketball team – still without a win in Southeastern Conference play – has experienced both the blowouts and the close calls.
Saturday’s 77-69 loss to No. 24 Vanderbilt will be categorized into the latter of the two.
In front of a sellout crowd at Memorial Gymnasium, where the Commodores have yet to drop a game this season, the Tigers – despite early foul trouble from both Storm Warren and Tasmin Mitchell – went blow for blow with the home team throughout the first half.
By the end of the first 20 minutes, LSU held a 29-28 lead. Warren had scored 10 of the Tigers’ first 15 points, and head coach Trent Johnson’s decision to go zone on the other end of the floor paid off. In the first half, the Commodores shot a season-low 29.6 percent.
Guard Bo Spencer, playing on an injured ankle that kept him out of the second half of Wednesday’s game against Arkansas as well as the two practices that followed, chipped in with three 3s, which helped give LSU as much as a six-point first half advantage.
“We were able to take the lead going into halftime because we played hard and gave an effort that we should have come with since the beginning of the season,” said senior Tasmin Mitchell.
Playing without starting forward Andre Walker (shoulder) and reserve guard John Jenkins (flu), head coach Gene Stallings’ Commodores needed a spark to come in the second half if they hoped to hold steady in their chase for Kentucky and the top spot in the SEC.
When Mitchell added 18 of his 20 points over the final 20 minutes, you would figure the Tigers finally came away with one.
LSU fans, meet Lance Goulbourne.
The sophomore, who averages just three minutes a game, put the Commodores on his back and carried them to the win. In 26 minutes on the floor, Goulbourne scored 18 points, pulled down nine rebounds and was 7-for-9 at the charity stripe.
“Whatever I need to do to help my team win, I'll do it,” he said. “I do the best I can when Coach puts me in. If I have to make free throws at the end, I'll do it. I don't get nervous in pressure situations.
“When someone goes down, someone has to step up.”
While Mitchell and Spencer continued to tack on points, the Tigers’ third man in the scoring rotation was watching from the bench. On Vanderbilt’s first offensive possession of the second half, Warren picked up his third foul. By the 10-minute mark, he had four. With just less than six minutes to play, the sophomore fouled out of the game.
From there, A.J. Ogilvy, Jermaine Beal and Goulbourne helped push a tie game with five minutes left to a 70-65 Commodore lead with just less than a minute left.
"It was tough to lose some of our players to foul trouble, especially Storm, because he's a big part of our team,” Mitchell said. “It did affect our rhythm, but we were working hard on defense and picked up fouls trying to be aggressive.”
Down five coming out of a timeout, Spencer missed a three-point jumper. Beal grabbed the rebound, was fouled and knocked down both his free throws. Goulbourne added five additional free throws over the final 22 seconds to give Vanderbilt the 77-69 win.
“Eleven times in a row is tough,” said Johnson of his team’s 0-11 conference mark. “I thought today was our best effort from start to finish all year long.
“I have good kids and that's the tough part about it,” he added. “They have been down eleven times, but they find a way to pick themselves back up and I think that speaks volumes to their character.”