At halftime of his team's embarrassing 71-38 loss to top-seeded Texas A&M in Saturday's SEC semifinals, LSU coach Johnny Jones responded to a question about his team's energy level in preposterous fashion.
"I think we've got great energy," Jones told ESPN sideline reporter Shannon Spake.
Jones must have been watching a different team than everyone else because LSU was neither great nor energetic at any point in the first half. The Tigers trailed by 22 points at halftime, went 13 minutes without a field goal and somehow managed to record not a single assist.
Perhaps Jones relayed his satisfaction with LSU's energy level to his players in the halftime locker room because they came out just as passionless and lethargic in the second half. The Tigers trailed by as many as 40 points with less than three minutes to go en route to scoring the fewest points by one team in a Division I basketball game this season.
Such a dismal performance would be unfathomable under any circumstances from a team with the future No. 1 draft pick and a talented supporting cast. That it also came in a game LSU needed to win to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive makes it even more remarkable.
Winning the SEC tournament was LSU's last-gasp chance to salvage a disappointing season and help Ben Simmons avoid the infamy of failing to take his team to the NCAA tournament. The last No. 1 pick to play in college but never reach an NCAA tournament was Minnesota's Mychal Thompson way back in 1978.
LSU caught a break catching 12th-seeded Tennessee in the SEC quarterfinals instead of fifth-seeded Vanderbilt, but the Tigers offered virtually no resistence Saturday afternoon. In addition to shooting 20.6 percent from the field against Texas A&M's stout defense, LSU also missed eight of its 15 foul shots and did not have a single player score more than 10 points.
In a lot of ways, it was a fitting finale to a season that began with great promise but will be remembered as a great disappointment.
Simmons racked up flashy highlights and video game-like numbers throughout his lone year in Baton Rouge, but his 19.4 points and 11.8 rebounds per game didn't translate into team success. LSU suffered bad losses to the likes of Charleston, Houston, Wake Forest, NC State and Marquette in non-league play and never truly recovered, yoyoing between a precarious perch on the bubble and the fringes of the NCAA tournament hunt thereafter.
While LSU's defensive issues have received much scrutiny as has the way in which Jones used Simmons, neither of those are the most alarming part of the Tigers' season. Much worse is the fact that Jones and his staff couldn't seem to motivate their players to care even as their NCAA tournament hopes were slipping further and further away.
The lethargy was apparent in several late-season SEC losses and it was glaring Saturday afternoon. Two wins away from making the NCAA tournament and salvaging their season, the Tigers couldn't be bothered to exert a real effort.
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