To begin with, the Red Raiders went toe-to-toe all night with a big, physical and talented SEC club that will doubtless secure a spot in the Big Dance. With 9:20 remaining in the first half, the Tigers had forged an 11-point cushion and looked to be on the verge of evicting Tech from the USA. But six and a half minutes later the Red Raiders tied the game at 37 on a Jaye Crockett layup.
In the second half, LSU amassed a nine-point advantage on a Johnny O'Bryant jumper with 3:30 remaining, and it looked like Tech's goose was cooked. But the Red Raiders summoned a spirited rally and would have won the game had Robert Turner's last-second three-point rattled in rather than out.
Tech's work on the glass was stellar and a key reason why the Red Raiders could very well have pulled the upset. LSU entered the game with a plus-nine rebounding margin that was among the tops in college basketball, yet it was Tech that won this statistic 28-27.
The Red Raiders were also very aggressive on offense, attacking the rack relentlessly, and their fearlessness paid dividends in the form of 39 free throw attempts, 31 of which they knocked down.
And even Tech's defense, which allowed LSU to hit 47 percent of its three-point attempts--80 percent in the second half--was good in many ways. The Red Raiders hassled the Tigers into 18 turnovers, and did yeoman work against LSU's talented bigs (at least four NBA scouts were in attendance), holding O'Bryant to 12 points, and super freshman Jordan Mickey to seven. What's more, when Tech simply had to get stops down the stretch, they shut the Tigers down on five straight possessions.
But ultimately, the Red Raiders dropped a winnable game because they simply couldn't get over the hump, although they had ample opportunity to do so.
Tech never led in this game, but had opportunities to take the lead at the 2:30 mark of the first half (Randy Onwuasor missed a layup), the 1:21 mark of the first half (Robert Turner missed a three-pointer), the 18:29 mark of the second half (Jordan Tolbert missed a layup), the 17:45 mark of the second half (Onwuasor turned the ball over), and of course at the final buzzer with Turner's missed three-pointer.
There were multiple components to Tech's inability to grab the brass ring. To begin with, the Red Raiders, all season long, have practically created a ritual of missing layups and all manner of chippies. That hobgoblin manifested itself again against the Bayou Bengals.
Tech also played too fast at times. Rather than pull the ball back and make a well-considered attack on the basket, the Red Raiders too often got swept up in the excitement and forced the issue. And haste definitely made waste.
Make no mistake, this is a game Tech could have won, and it was clear that Tubby Smith wanted it badly. He was easily the most intense he's been so far in his short Tech tenure, and it is clear that he was bitterly disappointed by the defeat. Red Raider fans in attendance were obviously pleased with their team's effort, but their coach took solace in "close but no cigar." He knows that in order to build this program, Tech must win games such as this.