LSU basketball: SEC Tournament exit another sad waste of Tremont Waters’ terrific talent

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — It’s too bad LSU basketball wasn’t better this season, because freshman point guard Tremont Waters is the kind of player we would’ve all enjoyed watching in the NCAA Tournament. He delivered one final, fruitless reminder of that Thursday night against Mississippi State in the SEC quarterfinals.

The Tigers trailed by as many as 19 points — and for 39 of 40 minutes — but Waters willed them within one with nine seconds to go. He splashed a deep, heavily contested 3-pointer and LSU had a chance. Until it didn’t.

Bulldogs 80, Tigers 77 means that Waters will not get invited to the Big Dance this season. It means that not even his electric talent and seven KenPom top-50 wins were enough. Because LSU, which beat NCAA Tournament-bound Michigan, Houston, Texas A&M (twice), Arkansas (twice) and Missouri, also managed to lose 14 times.

So Waters and Co. will likely head home and wait to host an NIT game.

“Hopefully,” coach Will Wade said. “God knows we can’t win away from home, so hopefully we’ll get a home game. We’re a bunch of homebodies. Hopefully we’ll get a home game. That would be great. Maybe we can win that.”

You see, Wade is irritable at the end of his first season at LSU because, incredibly, his team has lost eight straight games outside of Baton Rouge (where the Tigers beat Mississippi State by 21 points just five days ago).

And he’s probably pretty pissed off to have wasted Waters’ SEC All-Freshman season. The 5-foot-11 dynamo averaged 15.6 points, 5.9 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals — and went for 28, 6, 4 and 2 on Thursday night. He hit five 3-pointers in the last gasp against the Bulldogs.

“That’s what we get pretty much every night from him,” Wade said. “The only reason we’re in a lot of games.”

Waters scored 27 points in his first college game, dropped 21 on the Big Ten Tournament-champion Wolverines in his third, torched Marquette for 39 in his fifth. He scored 25-plus five times, including three of the last five games.

Thursday night, he tried to play the part of a superhero, sinking seemingly impossible buckets while wearing a protective face mask. He saved his most stunning shot for last.

“It’s not a moment that I shy away from,” said Waters, whose final heave was just a tad too little and too late. “They came out with a much grittier mentality than we did. That’s frustrating for us because we know we could have played better, and it just slipped out of our hands.”

That’s too bad for all of us who like watching binge scorers and fearless shooters provide the magic in March. Here’s hoping Waters has other chances — and more help from his teammates — in the future.

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