Tigers’ season ends in second round of the NIT
DALLAS — Anthony Hickey knew what was in store Monday inside Moody Coliseum.
LSU’s chief defensive stopper knew SMU would concoct a way to screen its own small dynamo, Nic Moore.
Set ball screens, hold them an extra second and force Hickey to scramble in pursuit as Moore slashed and sliced toward the rim.
“They we’re going to put him one-on-one against our bigs,” Hickey said.
For a half, the Tigers locked up the Mustangs’ 5-foot-9 point guard to a lone bucket.
All of that went out the window in less than four minutes, a span when Moore ripped off 11 points during a 13-1 run that turned the No. 5 seed Tigers’ upset hopes into a laugher in which the top-seeded Mustangs dribbled out the clock on an 80-67 victory in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.
“He hurt us big time,” guard Andre Stringer said.
Forty-three seconds out of the locker room, Moore, who had 16 points, lofted in a 3-pointer from the right corner and followed it with a driving layup a trip later.
But his final act embodied the threat he posed.
A high ball screen let Moore zoom past Tim Quarterman. Jordan Mickey was a split-second too slow rotating. Moore elevated, leaned left, took the hit and watched the ball roll down.
“We wanted to make sure our post guys did a good job, hedging high-hand and making him play up over the top,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said.
Instead, it was a three-point play, and the Mustangs built a 48-41 lead with 15:53 left.
“They held their screens a little more,” Hickey said. “He was able to get open looks. A couple of times we lost him in transition. That’s something we worked on.”
Sure, LSU (20-14) cut the lead to 53-49 on four consecutive points from Johnny O’Bryant III, but SMU (25-9) answered with an 8-0 burst of its own in a half in which the Tigers trailed by as many as 17 points.
LSU shot 43.9 percent, a good night against a team giving up just a 37.7-percent clip, and hung around on the boards to only get outrebounded by two.
Stringer added 15 points, going 5-of-10 from 3-point range, and Jordan Mickey chipped in 14 points and seven rebounds.
Meanwhile, SMU shot 57.9 percent and got another 16 points and seven rebounds from Nick Russell to go with 13 points from forward Markus Kennedy.
The Mustangs, their home building invaded by a horde in purple-and-gold in the upper sections, clicked after the Tigers bowed up early.
LSU knocked down 48.4 percent of its shots in the first half. And it hung in on the boards, building an 18-14 edge against the equally burly Mustangs.
Somehow, Stringer’s shooting stroke got neglected in SMU’s scouting report.
The senior knocked down 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions during a 10-3 run for a 18-13 lead.
Mickey, a Dallas native, keyed another run.
The freshman forward mashed down a two-handed dunk on a high-low entry pass and on the head of Ryan Manuel during a three-point play in an 11-3 run for a 29-22 lead at 7:31 of the first half.
In the upper five sections of SMU’s building, the purple-and-clad mass spurred on the Tigers in an open-throttle game that fit the Tigers’ persona.
“The point of emphasis was coming out and making sure we weren’t playing on our heels,” Jones said. “We were able to do that.”
All of it peaked when Hickey lofted an alley-oop to a streaking Jarell Martin for a two-handed dunk that pushed LSU’s lead to seven points and forced Mustangs coach Larry Brown to call a timeout.
Those glittering moments in the open floor were gone after the Tigers took a 40-35 lead at halftime.
“They started to get back on defense,” Hickey said. “They threw a man out there so I wouldn’t be able to run out.”
And LSU, which went 3-of-13 from behind the 3-point line in the second half, helped SMU punch the pedal through the floor.
“They’re a very good defensive basketball team,” Jones said. “In the second half, we weren’t as patient, took a couple of early shots and they were able to feed off of it.”
Nobody had a bigger hand in the surge than Moore.
And the Tigers, who tantalized all season with sequences as brilliant as the first half and as rage-inducing in the second, have no more chances to recover.
“It’s tough,” Hickey said. “There’s been a lot of games where we’ve been up and let it slip away toward the end.”