Men’s Basketball Comes Up Short Against Top-Seed Michigan
Published 1:00 pm Thursday, March 25, 2021
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — LSU’s Cameron Thomas and Javonte Smart combined for 57 points in the NCAA Second Round, but it wasn’t enough to hold off top-seeded Michigan, 86-78, on Monday night in Lucas Oil Stadium.
No. 8-seeded LSU (19-10), playing in the second round for the second-straight tournament, led by as many as nine in the first half (30-21) and six (51-45) early in the second half before succumbing to the Wolverines.
Michigan (22-4), which led 43-42 at halftime, made 53.8 percent of its field goals, gained its largest lead midway through the second half and pulled away to advance to the Sweet 16.
Thomas, an All-SEC freshman guard, had 19 of his 30 points in the first half and finished 10-of-23 shooting. He made all seven of his free throws and played all 40 minutes. He became the sixth LSU player to score 30 points in an NCAA Tournament game.
Smart, a junior guard from Baton Rouge, was also 10-of-23 shooting and made all five of his free throws. Like Thomas, Smart’s scoring total (27) was two shy of a career high, while he grabbed nine rebounds and gave six assists with only one turnover.
LSU managed only 39.1 percent from the field (27 of 69) but led for more 23 minutes while outplaying Michigan for a majority of the evening.
Michigan was led by guards Eli Brooks and Chaundee Brown, who each scored 21 points despite averaging 9.2 and 7.4 points per game, respectively. The duo combined for eight three pointers. Seven-foot-one starting center Hunter Dickinson was a handful in the paint, collecting 12 points and 11 rebounds. Franz Wagner made his final four shots of the contest for Michigan and finished with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
In a stark contrast to its opening-round game against St. Bonaventure, Thomas and the Tigers started the game shooting well. He made five of his first six shots — all from at least 17 feet including a pair of contested three pointers — and scored 12 points in the first eight minutes. The Tigers opened a 19-12 advantage and forced a timeout from Michigan Head Coach Juwan Howard.
A blocked shot by LSU’s Trendon Watford led to a three pointer by Smart, who scored his first five points to push the Tigers’ advantage to 24-16 with 9:16 left in the half. Three free throws by Thomas and an old-fashioned three-point play by Days gave LSU a nine-point lead, but Michigan answered with a three by Brown and a three-point play by Dickinson to cut LSU’s lead to 32-29 with 6:01 left in the half.
The exciting offense continued over the next three minutes, as the teams matched field goals before the 3:17 media timeout with LSU holding on to a 40-38 lead. However, both teams cooled off in the final minutes of the half, as Thomas’ 16-footer in the closing seconds was the only field goal between the two teams in the final 3:40.
Michigan made 5-of-8 free throws during the span to take a 43-42 halftime lead. Thomas led all scorers with 19 first-half points, while Brooks paced Michigan with 13 on 5-of-6 shooting.
The first 12 minutes of the second half was a see-saw battle, with LSU opening a 51-45 advantage with an 8-0 run only to see Michigan take a 55-51 lead with 10-0 run that started with consecutive three pointers by Smith and Brooks. LSU scored the next seven points and a 12-3 run for a 63-58 lead following Thomas’ string-music three which forced a Wolverines timeout.
However, Michigan again answered with the next nine points to gain a 67-63 lead and force LSU’s Will Wade to take a timeout. The Wolverines extended the advantage to 10, 80-70, with less than four minutes to play.
Smart and Thomas never stopped applying the pressure, cutting the Michigan lead to 84-78 inside 45 seconds to play. A missed shot in the paint by Thomas after a Michigan turnover forced LSU to foul and stop the clock. Michigan put the game out of reach with a pair of free throws by Brooks.