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Mar 18, 2024 6:14 pm

Familiar foes LSU, North Texas meet again in NIT

LSU North Texas

LSU is returning to postseason play.

It’s not the NCAA Tournament, but the No. 4 seed Tigers’ game against unseeded North Texas in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday night in Baton Rouge, La., is a notable step in the rebuilding of the program.

LSU (17-15) went 9-9 in the Southeastern Conference after winning just two league games in 2022-23 in coach Matt McMahon’s first season after he was hired to guide the program in the wake of NCAA sanctions.

“You don’t come to LSU to celebrate going to NITs, but where we are at as a program, it’s a big step forward for us,” McMahon said. “It’s an opportunity to keep building and put ourselves in position to get back to the NCAA Tournament, which is obviously the ultimate goal for us.”

The Tigers, who defeated the Mean Green 66-62 on Nov. 17 in the Shriners Children’s Charleston (S.C.) Classic, won three of their last four regular-season games to earn a first-round bye in the SEC tournament. They lost to Mississippi State 70-60 in their conference tournament opener.

Jalen Cook scored 15.6 points per game in 13 games for LSU and Jordan Wright averaged 14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds across 32 games.

In addition to being familiar with LSU, North Texas (18-14) is very familiar with the NIT. The Mean Green are in the tournament for the third consecutive season and they won it last season, defeating UAB in the final.

North Texas won three of its last four regular-season games, then defeated Tulane 81-71 in the first round of the American Athletic Conference tournament before losing to Florida Atlantic 77-71.

Coach Ross Hodge served as associate head coach under Grant McCasland for six seasons before McCasland left to become head coach at Texas Tech. The Mean Green had to overcome a series of absences to key players due to health issues during Hodge’s first season in the head job.

Guard Rubin Jones, who is the team’s second-leading scorer (12.0 points per game) and leader in assists (3.6), missed 11 games due to a hamstring injury before returning. Fellow guards Rondel Walker, CJ Noland and John Buggs III missed a combined 23 games due to injury before returning.

“Every time anybody went down, I didn’t see anybody with their head down,” Jones said. “We’re deep and we just had the next-man-up mentality all year.”

–Field Level Media

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