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ESPN announcers at the LSU-Alabama basketball game Wednesday night at first did not even notice Alabama’s Noah Gurley possibly goaltending Eric Gaines’ layup attempt.
In replays, it looked like Gurley pinned Gaines’ shot on the backboard, which is goaltending. But nothing was called. LSU coach Will Wade went nuts and drew a technical foul. Jaden Shackelford made both technical free throws and two more for another foul to give Alabama a 57-44 lead with 8:06 to play. And the Crimson Tide withstood a furious rush by the No. 13 Tigers to win 70-67 in Tuscaloosa.
“You think it looked like that? You think? It was pinned on the backboard,” Wade shouted incredulously at the postgame press conference when a questioner said it “looked like” Gurley goaltended.
“It didn’t look like it. It was goaltending,” Wade said.
ESPN2 announcers Jimmy Dykes and Karl Ravech said nothing of the play during live action as everything was moving fast. Then they were confused as to why Wade became so wildly enraged. When they saw the replay, they understood Wade’s tantrum, but they were not convinced it was goaltending. They only agreed that it was close. And a slow motion, close angle replay was not shown.
SEC Now postgame host Dari Nowkhah on the SEC Network said goaltending should have been called.
“I mean, he lost it,” Nowkhah said of Wade. “But he was right. I mean, it looked like it was a goaltend.”
Again, “looked like.”
Wade’s reaction to the no-call may have been residual frustration. LSU (15-3, 3-3 SEC) pounded the ball into the paint and drove the lane throughout a physical game, but shot only 15 free throws to 32 by Alabama (12-6, 3-3 SEC), which snapped a three-game losing streak.
“It’s amazing when you shoot 34 balls in the paint and never get fouled,” Wade said sarcastically. “That’s extremely difficult to do. Somehow we managed to do that tonight.”
It is very common, however, for the road team in the SEC to shoot significantly fewer free throws than the home team.
But Wade vehemently vented after his team’s second straight loss and fifth in a row to Alabama, which beat LSU 80-79 in the SEC Tournament Championship Game last season.
“I told our guys I got the technical because I got to have their back,” he said. “We can’t keep having this happen. At some point, I’ve got to stand up and have their back. And so I had their back, and those guys had my back. We came back fighting. That’s what it’s about. As a coach, you have your kids’ back, and the kids have your back.”
In the end, even if it was not goaltending, Wade’s reaction, or childish overreaction, appeared to fire up his team. Or that’s what it “looked like.”
LSU proceeded to outscore Alabama 9-0 over the next two minutes and 22 seconds to cut the deficit to 57-53 on a Gaines 3-pointer with 5:44 left. Brandon Murray hit a 3-pointer 21 seconds later to cut Alabama’s lead to 58-56. Then two free throws by Tari Eason tied it 58-58 with 4:47 left.
Eason scored a career-high 26 with 10 rebounds for LSU, which lost starting forward Darius Days to an ankle injury midway through the first half.
“It appears to be a mild ankle sprain,” Wade said.
LSU was also without starting point guard Xavier Pinson for the third straight game because of a knee injury. Murray had 19 points.
Alabama, which was 0-for-15 from 3-point range in the second half, managed to take over the game again and led 68-60 with 1:22 left, but LSU wouldn’t go away. After five straight missed free throws by the Tide, another Murray 3-pointer drew the Tigers within one, 68-67, with eight seconds left. But alas, Keon Ellis hit two free throws with five seconds to go for the 70-67 lead.
Gaines missed an open 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Shackelford led Alabama with 26 points, Jahvon Quinerly had 17 and Ellis scored 12 with eight rebounds.
“I’m proud as hell of ’em,” Wade said. “And I’ve got to stand up for them. We can’t just sit down and keep taking it.”
Exactly what Wade and his team have been “taking” is a mystery. The Tigers have lost only three games, two of them on the road, including a 70-55 loss at No. 11 Auburn in which calls had little to do with the result. LSU was outscored 17-2 over the final minutes of its 65-58 loss on Saturday to Arkansas in which calls had no impact.
Wade’s bratty temper tantrum may be better aimed at his players. They committed five turnovers over the final eight minutes of the Arkansas loss and committed 20 turnovers against Alabama with just six assists.
Part of LSU’s assist-turnover problem has been due to Pinson’s absence in the last three games, but over the Tigers’ six SEC games, they have 100 turnovers against only 56 assists. That is sloppy basketball, regardless of a “close” goaltending non-call.
Alabama also destroyed LSU with 19 offensive rebounds and outrebounded the Tigers overall, 44-36.
“You can’t guard them when they’re just shooting until they make it,” Wade said. “We obviously have got to clean up the turnovers and rebounding.”
Now, that you’ve calmed down, Will, you sound like you’re tending to your team’s real problems.
It wasn’t a goaltending call that lost your game, even if it was goaltending. And maybe the technicals did not motivate your team to come back. Maybe your players would have fought back anyway.
“It was a crazy environment,” Murray said, and he could have been talking about just his team’s bench area. “And I feel like we just got riled up. We’ve just got to calm down.”
Coach, listen to player.
The Tigers, who hope to have Days and Pinson back for their next game, play at No. 24 Tennessee (12-5, 3-3) at 6 p.m. eastern on ESPN in one of the top games of the SEC’s Saturday schedule.