Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tigers Lose to Vandy to Halt Home Court Streak at 19

Rock bottom is still a ways off for the LSU basketball team, but it sure seems like the Tigers are headed that direction.
The 21st-ranked Tigers tumbled to Vanderbilt on Wednesday, 64-53, at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in a game that provided plenty of frustration at the start and more at the finish, but for different reasons.
For the fifth consecutive Southeastern Conference game, LSU was out of sync, and this time out of luck as well.
Although a late-game charge salvaged respectability, the Tigers’ glaring offensive shortcomings were too much to hurdle as the Commodores stormed to a cozy double-digit lead and held on at the end to snap LSU’s 19-game SEC home winning streak.
Besides seeing that impressive run screech to a halt, the Tigers (13-6) also dropped to 2-3 in league games and added more items to a glowing list of concerns and questions marks.
After a game-long struggle to produce anything easily on the offensive end, the Tigers clawed back within six points twice in the final few minutes. But Vandy’s Shan Foster — a Kenner native and Bonnabel High School graduate — produced three big plays in a row to slam the door on LSU’s comeback.
The Tigers chiseled an 18-point second-half deficit to 57-51 on the last of Garrett Temple’s four straight free throws with 2:17 to play.
With LSU full-court pressing, Foster got loose for a driving bank shot. After Temple’s last foul shots, Foster spotted up along the baseline for a 3-pointer that pushed the Vandy lead back to 60-51.
“The dagger shot — that’s what coach calls it,” Commodores senior Dan Cage said.
Then, with LSU desperately trying to score quickly, the 6-foot-6 Foster rejected LSU power forward Glen Davis’ shot from point-blank range in the final minute, the last of the Commodores’ six blocked shots.
Even before Foster took over, the Tigers lost a chance to creep closer when Dameon Mason — one of LSU’s bright spots in the game — couldn’t get an open layup to fall.
“Bottom line, when the opportunity is there to make the play, we’ve got to make the play,” LSU coach John Brady said. “At some point and time, a play has got to be made.”
Vandy (14-6, 4-2) won its fifth consecutive game against a ranked opponent and its second on the road in four days after staggering Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday.
The surging Commodores nearly scored a first-half knockout, racing to 26-10 lead with 6:16 left before halftime. Vanderbilt stung LSU with a 13-0 run and then a 10-4 burst before the Tigers finally settled into anything resembling an offensive groove.
“They came out with intensity and punched us in the mouth,” said LSU sophomore Tasmin Mitchell, who led the Tigers with 16 points but missed 13 of 20 field-goal attempts. “They were shooting well and had some great transition baskets. They hit us with something we weren’t ready for, obviously.”
A more simple way of putting it: Vanderbilt made shots and LSU continued to miss nearly every one it heaved up.
After the teams slugged through the first 3:07, Cage and Foster accounted for every point in the 13-0 blitz. Cage sandwiched two of his four 3-pointers around Foster’s run of seven points in a row on a driving jumper from the lane, a reverse layup in transition and a 3-pointer off the dribble.
LSU missed six straight floor shots and turned the ball over twice during Vandy’s first outburst. Davis converted a three-point play to stop the bleeding briefly and draw the Tigers within 16-6.
But those were the only points they mustered in a stretch of 7:19. By the time Mason drove for a fast-breakup layup at the 9:34 juncture, Vanderbilt was ahead 21-8.
“We didn’t really start playing until the 12- or 14-minute mark,” Brady said. “I didn’t think we played very hard early.”
Still, the biggest problem — poor shooting — was nothing new.
The Tigers hit only three of their first 23 floor shots and couldn’t piece together any momentum until they scored 12 points in the last 4:37 producing points on five of their last six possessions.
Mitchell pumped in eight points right before halftime to close the gap to 34-24. But the tone set early fueled Vandy the rest of the night.
“The game was dictated by our start,” Commodores coach Kevin Stallings said. “We got off to such a good start offensively and defensively that we were able to dictate the way the game was played. The key was not letting Glen get started. Our defense on him was really good.”
LSU’s shooting touch remained slow to come around after halftime as the Tigers fell into a 49-31 hole on Ted Skuchas’ hook shot with 12:48 left in the game. A 9-2 run got LSU within 53-45 on Ben Voogd’s 3-pointer from the left corner at the 6:20 mark.
Davis and Temple added 12 points for LSU. Derrick Byars paced Vandy with 18 points and collected 10 rebounds to match 5-11 point guard Alex Gordon’s game-high rebound total as the smaller Commodores won the backboard battle 42-36. Cage and Foster tallied 14 points apiece.

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