Whatever issues embroiling LSU off the court, they’re not slowing the Tigers down on it.
No. 3 seed LSU overcame its own blown 15-point lead to ultimately outlast Maryland on Saturday with a 69-67 victory in the second round of the NCAA tournament to secure the Tigers’ first Sweet 16 since their 2006 Final Four run.
Skylar Mays hit two free throws to tie the game at 64 with 1 minute, 13 seconds left. The Tigers then got a stop, and Mays delivered a go-ahead 3-pointer from the win with 32.5 seconds left on the clock. The Terps, however, weren’t done as they matched Mays’ 3 with one by Jalen Smith on the ensuing possession.
Tremont Waters then came to the rescue for LSU.
The Tiger guard dribbled the clock down under 10 seconds, then attacked the rim, getting into the paint and delivering a scooping game-winning layup with under 2 seconds to play.
Mays scored 16 to lead the Tigers while Waters had 12 and Naz Reid 13 as LSU overcame shooting 28.9 percent in the second half when Maryland switched largely to zone to advance to Washington, D.C. next week.
It’s been quite the stretch for LSU under interim coach Tony Benford. After going one-and-done at the SEC tournament as the controversy surrounding coach Will Wade’s alleged wiretapped call to Christian Dawkins in which Wade reportedly said he made a “strong-ass offer” to land a recruit, LSU suddenly has its best postseason in more than a decade. How about that?
Of course, the Tigers’ success may eventually be wiped from the record book if the NCAA finds extensive wrongdoing or if the recruit in question, Javonte Smart, is retroactively declared ineligible as he’s playing for LSU despite the cloud that’s been created by what Wade allegedly said on a wiretap that was caught by an investigation that continues to sprawl and impact the sport. Even if it yet hasn’t been to the degree once thought to be imminent when the Southern District of New York announced those first batch of charges more than a year ago.
Regardless of what ultimately happens, though, this group of Tigers is going to play in the Sweet 16, even if it’s eventually stricken from the record books. There’s no Men In Black memory wipe. LSU and its fans will know they won these games, and they’ll probably give themselves extra credit for overcoming the adversity of perhaps getting caught cheating.
It’s hard to argue against LSU leaning into this. They could be looking at potential punishments to the program, and it seems likely they’ll be moving on from Wade after just two seasons. Given it’s been 13 years since they made a second weekend – much less a return to the Final Four – it’s probably best to just enjoy this run, however it may eventually be recorded. Hiring a new coach with a cloud of NCAA uncertainty over the program doesn’t usually foretell a return to prominence, ya know?
So with Minnesota or Michigan State awaiting them in D.C. next week and then potentially Duke, don’t fault LSU for getting its money’s worth out of this run. Maybe that wasn’t the best metaphor there, but you get it.
For Maryland, it’s the third first-weekend departure in four tournaments under Mark Turgeon. The Terps look to be a team that should be back again next year, even if sophomore big man Bruno Fernando opts to go pro. The 6-foot-10, 240-pound center is a projected first-round draft pick, and would be a significant loss for Turgeon, but that could be the only major departure from this year’s team that went 23-11 and finished fifth in the Big Ten.