BATON ROUGE, La. — The score didn’t really matter in the first round of LSU’s home matchup with Louisiana-Lafayette in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. Not with an atmosphere like the one that could have made Beethoven hear again at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Wednesday night.
LSU won 84-76, but the real victors were anyone in the building for an intense matchup that NIT organizers can only dream of seeing replicated. The list of NIT games in which a coach has had to be held back by multiple assistants from possibly fighting his counterpart before the buzzer sounds is likely a short one.
Thanks to a war of words that spilled over from the court and into the postgame press conferences, it feels like it will take the cajoling of a third party — perhaps the Dalai Lama — for us to see the Tigers and Ragin’ Cajuns meet again on the basketball court.
It started well before the game even tipped, with Ragin’ Cajuns coach Bob Marlin throwing the first elbow.
“Sometimes, a team that tied for ninth in their league isn’t interested in playing,” he said on Monday. “But they haven’t been very good for a couple of years, so the NIT is a big step for them.”
He also expressed dismay that the game was not played at the Cajundome in Lafayette.
“Our RPI is much better, our record is much better, we feel like our gym’s better,” Marlin said. “There are a lot of things that say we should be a higher seed than we were.”
Marlin also indicated that he had repeatedly called LSU for a home-and-home series since taking over in Lafayette in 2011, but to no avail. The insinuation was that the Tigers have ducked the Cajuns.
Unsurprisingly, the video of Marlin’s statements was playing on loop in the LSU basketball facility Wednesday afternoon, ready for when the Tigers arrived to prepare for the game.
Wade did not have much to say to Marlin before the game in an icy handshake that only seemed to happen because that’s what you are supposed to do. He had plenty to say afterwards.
“I take exception when people take shots at your program,” Wade said. “Our guys take exception to that. To be honest, before Sunday, ULL wasn’t even a thought in my mind. I had no idea what they were doing, but after the last couple of days, it’s been something else. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“I was glad we were able to win for our fans, because I can only imagine having to listen to all that stuff.”
Things came to a boil — and definitely not the casual, crawfish-cooking kind — when Wade called a timeout with 12 seconds remaining to stick the knife into the visitors.
“Since they don’t get to play us very often, I thought they should sit there and enjoy the opportunity to play us,” Wade said.
Wade also shouted something at Marlin — he says he can’t remember what — but it was enough to make his counterpart’s face match his bright red blazer. Marlin left his bench and beelined towards Wade, saved by a pair of assistant coaches from someone getting either a literal or figurative black eye.
Both coaches were assessed technical fouls, but the extracurriculars did not stop there. Wade was clearly perturbed by something in the postgame handshake line, and the players remaining on the floor got into it after the coaches departed for the locker room.
Lost in all this variety of March Madness was the fact a fantastic basketball game had been played. Cajuns fans deserve credit for showing up in droves to support their team, probably accounting for one-quarter to one-third of the crowd. The atmosphere was better than any SEC game the Tigers played this season with the possible exception of Kentucky.
For the state of Louisiana, this matchup should happen regularly in basketball, just as ULL should play McNeese and Louisiana Tech should play Louisiana-Monroe with more regularity in football. The old-school hatred that pours out is what makes college sports fun.
Alas, that doesn’t seem very likely as long as Wade and Marlin are in charge. They won’t be exchanging Christmas cards or phone calls any time soon. Fans just have to hope a series that once lay dormant from 1945-2001 comes along once again within the next 66 years.
Sometimes a little bit of hate is a whole lot of fun.
The post LSU and UL-Lafayette make hate great again in NIT first round appeared first on SEC Country.
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