LSU Men's Basketball vs. Auburn

LSU men’s basketball junior forward Derek Fountain (20) drives towards the basket on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, during LSU’s 49-67 loss against Auburn in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.

When Matt McMahon was announced as LSU’s men’s basketball coach, it seemed like the program had a rebuild on its hands.

Its coach had just been fired for cause after receiving multiple Level I violations from the NCAA and the team was left without any scholarship players. However, McMahon recognized those challenges and embraced them, agreeing to a seven-year contract at LSU.

Fast forward to the start of the season, and McMahon had already made an impressive amount of progress. He rebuilt the roster almost from scratch, fielding a team with experience and some young talent.

McMahon led LSU to a 12-1 record through its first 13 games, capped off by a home win over then No. 9 Arkansas. It seemed the rebuild was ahead of schedule, and momentum was on LSU’s side. 

But that momentum quickly ran out.

Since the win over Arkansas, LSU has lost its last six in a row, capped off by a 21-point loss at home to Tennessee. Like many of the recent losses, the problems were rooted in offensive execution and ball security.

Against Tennessee, LSU turned the ball over 19 times, leading to 33 Tennessee points. Though LSU shot the ball better in the Tennessee game at 48%, the points off turnovers created an insurmountable deficit in the second half.

“When you're playing a top five team, they make you pay for every mistake,” McMahon said. “Every single mistake, and that's what they did today. Both points off turnovers, missed a switch, you miss a coverage on a flare screen, they make you pay every time so credit to them.”

LSU showed some early promise. The Tigers started the game 3-3 from the field, knocking down shots on consecutive possessions to start the game. However, Tennessee had answers, and when LSU eventually hit a scoring drought, Tennessee took advantage. The Volunteers opened up a 39-22 lead at halftime, which sucked the energy out of both the team and the Pete Maravich Assembly Center crowd.

Though LSU did show some positives in the second half, the game never left Tennessee’s control. The Volunteers eventually finished the game off with a 77-56 win, further erasing the momentum that LSU was once building.

“Unfortunately, this is part of the process that we signed up for. So, I think you have to try to find some positives,” McMahon said. “Obviously everyone wants to win, but we have to figure out a way to take some positives, from practices, from games and try to build a program.”

One of those positives in the second half was freshman Jalen Reed. Reed struggled through the early part of his freshman year but put up nine points and four rebounds in the second half against Tennessee.

“I thought just his aggressiveness, as I talked about earlier, he’s kind of a unique player at 6-foot-10 can put the ball on the floor, crafty driver can get to the rim and finish with either hand around the basket,” McMahon said of Reed. “So, you hope you take some confidence from the plays that he was able to make.”

Reed was a four-star recruit when he signed with LSU but has yet to live up to the lofty expectations. His nine-point performance is a new career and season high that McMahon hopes can help get him going down the stretch this season.

The opening stretch of the SEC schedule has done LSU no favors. LSU’s six consecutive losses have come against Kentucky, Texas A&M, Florida, Alabama, Auburn and now Tennessee, all projected NCAA Tournament teams aside from Florida. And unfortunately for the Tigers, that schedule doesn’t ease up much as they prepare to travel to Fayetteville for a rematch with Arkansas in their next game.

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