Marcus Thornton’s big game against Vanderbilt last season wasn’t enough to save LSU from defeat. These days, he’s getting much more support.
After securing the SEC title, Thornton and the 12th-ranked Tigers look to win their 14th straight in conference play and avenge last season’s loss to the Commodores when the teams meet Wednesday night.
Thornton had 27 points for the Tigers (25-4, 13-1) against the Commodores (17-11, 6-8) in the teams’ only meeting last season, but LSU lost 92-76 to then-No. 16 Vanderbilt.
The Tigers finished 13-18 in 2007-08, while the Commodores went 26-8 and went to the NCAA tournament. Now, LSU has clinched the SEC title outright and Vanderbilt’s NCAA tournament hopes are barely alive.
Thornton leads the Tigers in scoring for the second straight season and has been outstanding down the stretch, averaging 25.8 points in his last 12 games.
LSU was picked to finish last in the SEC West, but coach Trent Johnson took over for John Brady and his veteran lineup is complementing Thornton well.
“We knew that we were going to have guys that were experienced get a lot of playing time,” Tigers senior guard Garrett Temple said. “We tried to mesh together really well early in the season and it has paid off for us. We have bought into coach’s system and know that he knows how to win.”
Tasmin Mitchell, limited to three games last season after undergoing ankle surgery, has come up particularly big. The junior forward is averaging 21.4 points and 9.5 rebounds in his last eight games.
Thornton and Mitchell combined for 44 points as LSU clinched the league title with a 73-70 win over Kentucky on Saturday.
The Tigers, who play smart on offense and rely on Thornton and Mitchell when games get tight, have won 13 straight in conference play since losing their opener 65-59 to Alabama on Jan. 11. LSU has won 10 straight overall and would finish 8-0 at home with a victory Wednesday, but it will be facing a Vanderbilt team that is coming off an impressive win.
The Commodores beat South Carolina 96-83 on Saturday night. The Gamecocks were the only team that still had a chance to catch the Tigers entering Saturday’s games.
“We have a very good basketball team coming in here,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said. “You look at them on video tape and watch how they demolished a very good South Carolina team. Obviously, we need to be ready to play and play well.”
Vanderbilt, which had lost three of four before beating the Gamecocks, will need an impressive showing down the stretch to have a shot at returning to the NCAA tournament. The Commodores are in fifth place in the SEC East.
“We don’t have anything to lose right now,” Vanderbilt guard Jermaine Beal said. “We know our standing right now in the conference. But our season’s far from over, and our coaching staff knows that and our team knows that. We’re trying to get better and have fun and seize every opportunity we have.”
Beal had a career-high 27 points versus South Carolina. He’s averaging 6.0 points in two games against LSU.
Vanderbilt leads the series 55-47.