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Cold-Shooting Basketball Eliminated in SEC Semi

LSU's Ben Simmons scored his 23rd double double of the season.
LSU's Ben Simmons scored his 23rd double double of the season.
Steve Franz
Todd Politz (@tpolitz)
Todd Politz (@tpolitz)
Director of Digital Media

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The SEC's highest scoring offense went cold at the wrong time, as the LSU men's basketball team was eliminted from the SEC Tournament by No. 1 seed Texas A&M on Saturday in Nashville, 71-38.

LSU (19-14), which went more than 14 minutes without a field goal in the first half, were eliminated in the SEC semifinal following a dismal 20.6-percent shooting performance.

The Tigers return to Baton Rouge and to await a potential postseason berth.

Two of the Tigers' offensive cogs - freshman Ben Simmons and sophomore Craig Victor II - each spent the first half in foul trouble and 17th-ranked Texas A&M took advantage with a 27-2 outburst.

Simmons led LSU with his 23rd double double of the season, 10 points and 12 rebounds.

Texas A&M (26-7), the league's top defense at 65.9 points per game entering the tournament, advanced to the SEC Tournament Championship game on Sunday at noon CT. The Aggies will face the winner of Saturday afternoon's semifinal between No. 2-seeded Kentucky and No. 6-seeded Georgia.

The Aggies were led by Tonny Trocha-Morelos who had 13 points, while Jalen Jones added 12.

Victor II picked up two fouls within the first two minutes of the game and spent the duration of the half on the bench. In his place, Elbert Robinson III scored a put-back and grabbed three rebounds in five minutes of action, leaving in favor of Darcey Malone with an 8-3 lead.

The Tigers' solid defense led to a 1-for-9 start for Texas A&M with a rebounding advantage of 13-5.

However, while the Aggies broke out of the dry spell with blocked shots and three-pointers, LSU faltered on the offensive end, missing 14-straight shots and having Victor and later Simmons on the bench with two fouls.

As the Aggies' gained momentum, LSU head coach Johnny Jones re-entered Simmons only to have a third foul called on the freshman all-American 74 seconds later. Though a Blakeney three pointer ended a 14:29 field-goal drought for LSU with 1:17 left, Texas A&M pushed its advantage to 35-13 at halftime by making it's seventh-straight shot, a buzzer-beating three pointer.

Aside from two early three pointers from Tim Quarterman, LSU's shooting woes continued into the second half. Even Antonio Blakeney's 28-consecutive free throws streak ended following an Aggies technical foul.


2016 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament

Wed., March 9
#12 Tennessee def. #13 Auburn, 97-59

Thurs., March 10
#8 Florida def. #9 Arkansas, 68-61
#12 Tennessee def. #5 Vanderbilt, 67-65
#10 Alabama def. #7 Ole Miss, 81-73
#6 Georgia def. #11 Mississippi St., 79-69

Fri., March 11
#1 Texas A&M def. #8 Florida, 72-66
#4 LSU def. #12 Tennessee, 84.75
#2 Kentucky def. #10 Alabama, 85-59
#6 Georgia def. #3 South Carolina, 65-64

Sat., March 12
#1 Texas A&M def. #4 LSU, 71-38
#2 Kentucky def. #6 Georgia, 93-80

Sun., March 13
#1 Texas A&M vs. #2 Kentucky, 12 p.m. CT (ESPN)

LSU Postgame Transcript

THE MODERATOR: We're ready to begin with LSU.

COACH JONES: I thought the guys came out ready to play. I thought we did a great job of getting out of the gate and getting steals, rebounds, and playing good on the defensive end of the floor and holding them. Got up, I think, 9-4, 9-6. Unfortunately for us, we got stuck on 9 and defensively couldn't get things to click.

I thought A&M got going. They started making some shots, and they started feeding off of it. Unfortunately for us, we sit there in the first half and got a couple fouls, got a couple guys in foul trouble, and I thought we lost a little bit of our edge, a little bit of our flow. Unfortunately, going in at halftime with only 13 points, which is a low for us, and coming back out in the second half, more of the same.

Very disappointing for us to find and pick the day to have a bad shooting day and not get anything to go. But thought the guys at least tried to finish the game the right way.

Q. Ben, when Craig got that foul, did you feel the game kind of start slipping away once he got off the floor?

BEN SIMMONS: He's a big part of our team. So losing him and then me getting that second foul and then the third foul, it was tough on us. But, no, it was a bunch of different things coming into it. They were shooting well. We weren't rebounding and just consistent on the defensive end.

Q. Ben, you all have beaten some good teams this year. Did you ever see, with the players you have, getting that far behind in a game like this?

BEN SIMMONS: I didn't expect that to happen, but it got out of hand a little bit. But we were just trying to fight back. When the foul trouble happened, free throws, box out. A lot of things went into that game, and I definitely didn't expect that.

Q. What made it so tough to score against them? Was it more them or more of you guys?

BEN SIMMONS: A bit of both. For us, when I was catching down low, they were sending two guys over to block the shot. We're playing pretty good defense with the zone they jumped into when Jones got that second foul. But they played hard and looked like they wanted it more.

Q. Do you want to continue playing, whether it be in the NIT? Do you want your school to accept that bid? Do you want your school to accept an NIT bid? Do you want to keep the season rolling?

BEN SIMMONS: Whatever the future holds. I want to play with this team as long as I can. I love my teammates and my coach and stuff, and I'm having a great time playing with these guys. These are like my brothers to me. I don't want to leave.

Q. Ben, when you came here, did you ever consider that it might be NIT instead of NCAA Tournament? Did you see this number of losses coming?

BEN SIMMONS: For me, I just wanted to play and do whatever I can to win for my team. I didn't tell myself where I was going to be, where the team was going to be. All I knew was we were going to go out and work hard and try to get better every day.

Q. Johnny, same question about the fouls earlier. Did you feel like the game, that's where it separated once they got maybe a little more athleticism on the court than you had?

COACH JONES: I thought it changed momentum for us. I thought Craig and Ben were doing a good job of certainly putting themselves as a force in the paint, and I thought they did a great job of allowing us to have a flow there and rebounding and defending.

When Craig went out, I thought the quick fouls, I thought the game changed. And it got to the point to after Ben's second foul, taking him out, I thought they did a much better job. And we wound up, unfortunately, having to put Ben back in, and he picked up his third foul.

That's not something we're used to doing, playing without both of those guys. They've been a very integral part of our team all year long. And to play without those two guys in the first half was tough.

Q. At what point do you stop coaching the Xs and Os and just try to keep the wheels on the thing in a game like that?
COACH JONES: I just think that mostly you have to make sure the guys try and stay attached. One of the things we needed to do probably was try to attack and stay in attack mode and trying to get the ball to the basket because we just couldn't get shots to fall. Obviously, you know guys are going to get frustrated, but you want get your shooters to keep shooting, and hopefully they'll be confident in the shot as something to go down. And we just couldn't get it going that way today.

But you're absolutely right. I think it becomes more of an emotional thing and psychological, and you have to make sure that you keep them up.

Q. How will you view this season in its entirety?

COACH JONES: I think we've had a long season because of the fact we played without two guys up and about Christmastime that were starters for us, in Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor. When we got those guys, I thought we did a great job of playing through a lot of stretches and was very competitive in a very tough conference.

But to get here to a conference tournament and putting ourselves in the situation to have with the double bye and playing on yesterday against a very game team that had put two really good games back to back, winning that basketball game and coming into the game in the right mindset today.

But today is very a disappointing loss, and nothing to the kids or anything else outside of us missing shots and couldn't get shots to go down and couldn't get enough consecutive stops on the other end to make things happen.

So as a season, we've had some great ups, but I think any time you end the way we did today, you're very disappointed.

Texas A&M Postgame Transcript

THE MODERATOR: We're ready to continue on with Texas A&M.

COACH KENNEDY: Obviously, I'm thrilled with the effort that we played with, especially on the defensive end. I thought we did a really good job of being physical and walling up and forcing them to take some tough shots. Our bench came in and offensively did a really good job of moving the ball and played really unselfish and hit -- we started making shots, and we were due to start making shots because we hadn't shot the ball well. And we still can do better.

We were playing against a team that's really young and had a lot of pressure on them. You could see that our experience and our leadership was a big reason why we were able to win the game the way we did.

Q. Tonny, you all were struggling early offensively. Did you go in the game feeling like you had to do something to get the offense going?

TONNY TROCHA-MORELOS: Well, when Coach put me in the game, I just tried to play hard. I mean, I know we struggle on the offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, but I didn't focus on it. I just focused on playing hard and tried to do the right thing, and that's what I did.

Q. Tonny, the sequence with about 13 and a half minutes left when you started it with that dunk and there were a couple more after that, how much fun was that for you guys with that little dunkfest you had for a while?

TONNY TROCHA-MORELOS: It was. It was so much fun that I got a technical foul. [ Laughter ].

I think the bench and everybody enjoyed the dunk as much as I did, but we just focused on keep playing hard and get the win.

Q. For Alex, it looks like this was the fewest points allowed in a major conference game this year. How good does that feel? The previous low had been 40. Is that a nice moment or just an indication of what this defense can do?

ALEX CARUSO: Yeah, I think it's just a testament to -- like Tonny's saying, how hard we play. When we play hard and we've got five guys that are working for the same goal, it's amazing what our team is capable of.

I mean, you just saw it. It's coming together at the end of the year. We played a good Florida team yesterday. Kind of banged up, didn't respond well the first five minutes of this game, but after the first media time-out, I think we just hunkered down and started getting defensive rebounds and getting stops, and that helped our offense out too.

Q. Alex, could you have ever seen this coming? When you all got on the bench at the end, not just for a minute or two, but for the last eight or nine minutes, what was that like, just sitting there and having fun with the other guys on the bench?

ALEX CARUSO: Yeah, I mean, you don't envision beating someone by 40 in the semifinal game before you try and go to the championship, but that's just how the game played out. They kind of withered down as we got stronger, and the score resulted in that. But it's huge for us to be able to just kind of get some other guys in and let them get more experience in a high- intensity game and let some of the guys that play more minutes get some rest because whoever we play tomorrow is going to be ready and it's going to be a competitive game.

Q. Coach, A&M announced a contract extension before the game, and then you followed it up with a big win like that. I'm just curious what's going through your mind today.

COACH KENNEDY: I'm just thankful. I love Texas A&M, and it's been a journey, and I'm just proud for these guys and to get the opportunity to keep coaching and coach them for a long time. But that's about it from that standpoint.

Obviously, it means a lot to me, but it means a lot to me that Alex Caruso, who's been through the grind, and you see his maturity and character. And Tonny Trocha, who's a team guy behind the scenes, and what they were able to do today didn't happen overnight. So I'm excited for those guys.

Q. Billy, can you speak to the play of your bench in this tournament? And how much of a luxury is it in a tournament like this where you're playing days in a row? And, of course, the one to come where you can lean on those guys and also rest your starters?

COACH KENNEDY: It's huge. You know, last year we didn't have the depth of the bench, and it cost us at the end of the year. So these guys have been doing it all year. It started with the battle of Atlantis. It started with our first four games of the year, where Tonny Trocha started the first four games because Jalyn Jones didn't play in the first four games. So these guys have been developed and ready throughout the year, and I'm really proud of them.

But they're not freshmen. They're not freshmen anymore. Even Tavario Miller, all those guys, came in and have had good experience and played all year, and it's helped us for sure.

Q. Coach, staying with the theme of the bench, in the first half, it seemed like you took some of the starters out to like maybe sit them down and let them watch the game a little bit because things weren't going well. And some of the combinations you had out there were a little different than what we've seen all year with the four subs and Anthony Collins, and things like that.

COACH KENNEDY: Yeah, I wanted to go to those guys early. One, they've been playing extremely well. Tonny yesterday had 9 points and 7 rebounds in 13 minutes. Admon Gilder was huge. And D.J. should have played more minutes. So I wanted to get those guys in after the first four or five minutes, and they really settled us down. They moved the ball. They're not hunting for shots. They did a good job of staying within our system and scoring the ball.

Q. It's been a while since this program has played for a conference tournament title. How nice is it to have this position and continue the streak that you all are on?

COACH KENNEDY: It's awesome. To have the opportunity to play in this environment and at this stage. Again, I'm just really pleased for our guys. It's great for our young guys to gain in experience so we can progress on next season, and it's great for our seniors who have put in the time and have bought in, and I want them to absorb it and enjoy it.

Obviously, we came here to win it, but I want them to embrace the whole experience, and it will be something they remember the rest of their lives.

Q. Coach, can you address what you did defensively? Because in the first half, not only did they not make shots, they weren't even getting good looks a lot of the times, and the shot clock wound down like three times.

COACH KENNEDY: Yeah, I mean, we didn't do anything abnormal. That's the same way we played them at home. Coach Kyle Keller did a tremendous job with the scout preparing our team. We just, that's kind of what we do.

When we're locked in defensively like that and you look at D.J. Hogg, who's 6'8", Tony Trocha, who's 6'10", and Tyler Davis, who's 6'10", that's a heck of a front line. And that length with Caruso at the one or Collins at the one, a senior, is pretty good for us. And Admon Gilder at the two, 6'3".

So we're blessed. We've got good depth. We've got good talent. And we've got good kids. That's what you saw in that win, all of those things were a product of that.

Q. You just mentioned all the height. Is that a key to stopping Simmons maybe, or slowing him down at least?

COACH KENNEDY: It definitely helps in slowing him down, but that kid has had so much pressure on him from the beginning. You know, I felt sorry for him because nobody can live up to what he's been lifted up for. I mean, he's 19 years old.

So we played really good. They had a bunch of freshmen on the court who had never been in an SEC semifinal tournament. We've got veterans, fifth-year seniors, who have been through it and who have led our guys. So it was a perfect storm for us in this situation.




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