PITTSBURGH (AP) — LSU's return to the NCAA Tournament following a six-year absence went brilliantly for 30 minutes. The athletic and precocious Tigers overwhelmed North Carolina State at times, and it looked as if they had finally arrived for coach Johnny Jones.
Then the misses piled up. Frustration followed. A maddeningly familiar result, too.
Better days may be ahead in Baton Rouge, but this one is going to sting for a while after BeeJay Anya's hook shot rolled around and in with a second to play to lift the Wolfpack to a 66-65 victory.
It was the latest and most painful collapse in a season pockmarked with them for the ninth-seeded Tigers. There was the meltdown against No. 1 Kentucky last month. The baffling loss to Auburn in the Southeastern Conference tournament a week ago.
And now there is a long offseason to figure out how the Tigers missed their final 12 field goals and six crucial foul shots that allowed the Wolfpack to somehow survive.
"We wasn't ready for our season to end right now," LSU forward Jarell Martin said. "We worked real hard and felt like we had a great shot. North Carolina State, they did a great job of executing their plays down in the stretch."
The Tigers (22-11) did not. LSU appeared to have things under control when Martin hit two free throws to put the Tigers up 61-48 with 9:39 to play. LSU managed just four more free throws the rest of the way while N.C. State recovered.
Anya's second field goal in the final 45 seconds gave the Wolfpack (21-14) a date with top-seeded Villanova on Saturday.
Martin finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Fellow sophomore forward Jordan Mickey had 12 points and 14 boards, and Tim Quarterman led LSU with 17 points.
But the Tigers wilted when N.C. State turned up the pressure.
Cat Barber led N.C. State with 17 points, Abdul-Malik Abu added 13, and Anya came up with the biggest play of the game.
Senior Trevor Lacey tried to work for a shot with the clock winding down before feeding Anya in the block.
Anya's left-handed hook from about eight feet gave the tournament its fifth one-point game of the day. It was also LSU's fourth loss by three points or less.
"We knew they would make a run," Quarterman said. "We tried to withstand it. We got a couple stops. We just couldn't convert on the offensive end down the stretch."
Jones admitted he wasn't sure how his young team would react in the program's return to the NCAA tourney, maybe because the Tigers have been a talented but uneven work in progress all season.
LSU alleviated any of Jones' concerns early. Riding the athleticism of their two young big men and Quarterman's budding confidence, the Tigers attacked. LSU filled the lane repeatedly, soaring over the Wolfpack at times and racing around them at others.
During one sequence in the first half, Martin banked in a running layup, and then followed with a putback dunk in which his right hand appeared to be even with the square on the backboard before he grabbed the ball and slammed it through.
Mickey ended the half with a three-point play, and then a dunk as the Tigers took a seemingly commanding 40-26 lead.
Like just about everything else this year for the Tigers, comfort was fleeting.
N.C. State slowed the pace just enough to force LSU to play half-court offense. The Tigers didn't take well to the change in tempo. Their flow disappeared and the Wolfpack slowly chipped away.
The Tigers believe they're on the rise. How quickly they move up next year could depend on Martin and Mickey, a pair of first-team All-SEC selections. Now they head back to campus weighing whether to return for one more run or test the professional waters.
"I'll get with coach Jones, my parents and we'll come to a conclusion," Martin said. "I don't have a time period on it."
LSU: The Tigers finished 12 of 22 at the free-throw line and shot just 29 percent (7 of 24) in the second half. ... LSU outscored 28 points in the paint alone in the first half, more than N.C. State managed during the opening 20 minutes.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack made just 5 of 24 3-pointers. ... Lacey had nine points and nine rebounds in 38 minutes. ... Former LSU player Ralston Turner had 10 points against his former team.
LSU's season is over.
N.C. State plays top-seeded Villanova on Saturday.
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Posted on Fri, March 20, 2015
by WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer