Louisville Cardinals LSU Postseason Games - 1981
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LSU Post-Season Games
LSU Post Season Games - 1981
Coach Dale Brown voiced optimism that his 1980-81 could "become about the fifth team to ever win 30 games in one season." Looking at his roster, who could blame him?
  • Four starters returned from the 26-6: Forwards Rudy Macklin and Howard Carter, C Greg Cook, and G Ethan Martin. In addition, sixth-man Willie Sims returned to take the other starting guard slot.
  • Add heralded freshman F Leonard Mitchell and you had one of the best starting lineup-sixth man combos in the nation.
  • They formed a team that was strong on both ends of the court.

The Tigers started the season ranked #12 in the AP poll.

  • They began the schedule at the Great Alaska Shootout where they defeated Col­gate 79-61 before losing to Arkansas of the Southwest Conference 86-76. It would be three months before the Tigers lost another game.
  • They won 26 straight, the longest winning streak in school history.
  • Included were victories in their first 17 SEC games, something that no other team in league history had accomplished.
  • The streak ended in the regular season finale at Kentucky. With little incentive after clinching the regular season conference crown and #1 seed in the SEC tour­nament, the Tigers lost to the Wildcats by only 73-71.
  • LSU rolled past Florida in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament before being upset by Georgia in the semifinals 68-60.
  • Nevertheless, the 28-3 Tigers received the top seed in the Midwest Regional, which gave them a bye in the first round of the 48-team tournament.

Their first round opponent in Austin TX was Lamar, champions of the Southland Confer­ence.

  • The #8 Cardinals upset #9 Missouri in the first round 71-67.
  • Carter opened up Lamar's zone with is outside jump shots, allowing Macklin to dart into the vacant inside spots that opened up. The duo scored 25 of LSU's first 29 points. The Tigers led 31-17 after 12 minutes of play and 55-43 at the half.
  • Lamar changed their defense in the second half. Mitchell said, "They went to a man-to-man, and Ethan told me I better be looking." So the Tiger point guard lofted two straight passes to Leonard for stuffs that sent the message that there would be no Cardinal comeback.
  • The Tigers made all their field goals except one with in 8' of the basket as they pulled ahead 84-60 with 8:28 left. 22 second half points came on layups. The final score was 100-78.
  • LSU shot 60.8% from the field, not much better than Lamar's 57.4. The differ­ence was that the Tigers won the rebound battle 43-24. Cardinals coach Pat Foster said, "Our inside people just weren't accustomed to playing that type of game. LSU is the most physical team I've seen in 10 years of coaching."
  • Macklin led all scorers with 31 while Carter added 26, all on field goals.
LSU advanced to the Midwest Regional Final Four in the Louisiana Superdome.
  • They got a chance to revenge the first of their three losses against Arkansas. Eddie Sutton's Razorbacks, regular season champions of the Southwest Con­ference, had knocked off Mercer 73-67 in the second round, then edged defend­ing champion Louisville 74-73.
  • 6'9" 225lb C Greg Cook had been suspended for disciplinary reasons when the Tigers opened the season in Alaska. Hog C Scott Hastings victimized freshman Mitchell to the tune of 25 points and 14 points in the ten-point victory. Brown said, "Deductive reasoning will tell you that with Greg Cook, who is one of the best big men defensive players in the United States, our defense has to auto­matically improve."
  • The Tigers needed to contain Arkansas' talented guard tandem of U.S. Reed and Darrell Walker.
  • Spurred by an NCAA tournament record crowd of 34,036, the Tigers jumped out to a 28-11 lead by outscoring the Razorbacks 20-5 in a seven-minute stretch. They increased their 34-18 halftime advantage to 52-29 with 9:29 remaining in the second half and never led by less than 12 points in the second half. The winning margin was 72-56.
  • Brown started in a man to man defense before switching to a zone. "We were just trying to throw them off by going to man and then falling back in a zone," explained Martin. "They're not a great outside shooting team, and we felt if we could contain them inside we could contain them."
  • As expected, Cook made a big difference, keeping Reed and Walker from get­ting off jump shots in the lane and forcing them to pass. The big center sat out much of the second half with four fouls, finally getting his fifth with 5:45 remain­ing.
  • Martin led LSU's balance scoring with 16, one more than Macklin. Cook added 12 and Mitchell 10. Hastings led Arkansas with 14. LSU ended with a 41-31 edge on the boards.
  • Brown gushed, "Tonight was one of the highlights in my life in this great state, to see all those people in the stands. I want to thank Louisiana for a fantastic night. I've been around a long time, but I never felt chills like those that were going up my spine when we came out on the court to that crowd."

    L-R: Scott Hastings, U.S. Reed, Darrell Walker
The LSU staff wanted #7 Kansas to beat #6 Wichita State because they felt the Tigers matched up better with the Jayhawks.
  • But the Wheatshockers, champions of the Missouri Valley Conference, eked out a 66-65 victory to make it to the Elite Eight.
  • Coach Gene Smithson deployed a pair of forwards as good as any in the country - Antoine Carr and Cliff Levingston, both 6'8". The two combined for 34 points and 23 rebounds against Kansas.
  • But LSU felt they had the advantage in the backcourt. "If Howard and Ethan play well, we think we'll do very well," said assistant coach Ron Abernathy. "Against Wichita, Ethan has got to penetrate the way he did gainst Arkansas."
  • 32,474 saw the Tigers execute their game plan of denying WSU the inside and playing great defense on their big men.
  • After six minutes, the Shockers led 12-11. Then LSU catapulted to a 25-12 in a matter of four minutes. Macklin and Cook combined for 10 of the 14 points during the spree. "It seemed like they panicked," said Martin. "Nothing seemed to go right for them during that span. That's when they started putting up shots after one pass."
  • To make matters worse for WSU, Carr picked up his third foul and had to go to the bench. Levingston had to be careful to avoid getting his third. LSU led 48-33 at the half.
  • The Tigers outscored WSU 8-2 in the first 2:38 of the second half to go up by 22. But with three starters in foul trouble, Brown had to call on his reserves.
  • The Shockers attacked what they thought was a soft LSU middle. Getting second shots, Levingston and Carr began to score and went to the board harder. The LSU lead dwindled from 71-53 to 90-81 with 1:01 left. But that was as close as the Shockers came. The final count was 96-85.
  • As expected, Wichita led in rebounds but only by four - 36 to 32. The difference in the game came at the foul line. LSU sank 18 free throws to just nine for WSU.
  • Carr had a game high 22 points, 14 coming in the second half. Macklin was one behind while Levingston and Cook negated each other with 19 apiece. Ethan Martin had half of LSU's 20 assists.
  • Coach Brown said the Tigers had accomplished four of five goals set at the beginning of the season. "Our fifth goal is to win the national championship. We never said that we would win it. We said we wanted to win it. We are 31-3 and in the Final Four, but we're not totally fulfilled. There is still a little bit of vacuum."
    Unfortunately, Macklin dislocated the small finger on his right hand with 10:30 remaining and needed three stitches. The injury would have a profound effect on LSU's Final Four chances.

The Tigers traveled to Philadelphia for the second Final Four in school history.

  • Bobby Knight's tenth Indiana team had a 24-9 record with five of the losses coming before the Big Ten schedule began.
  • They were 17-4 since the turn of the year, including eight in row entering the Final Four.
  • Like the Tigers, the Hoosiers had dominated their opponents in the NCAA tournament. They had defeated their three foes by a combined 78 points.

The matchups everyone was talking about involved the point guards - Ethan Martin vs Isiah Thomas, and the two coaches.

  • The two players as well as their coaches downplayed the matchup. "I don't look at it as me and Isiah," said Martin. "We won't be going one-on-one all the time. We'll try to play team defense."
  • "Yes, the offense may start with me," said Thomas, the first sophomore in Indiana's rich basketball history to become a consensus All-American. "But that doesn't mean anything. It ends with the other four."
  • Coach Brown sounded the same theme. "It never has been Dale Brown versus Bobby Knight. Nor is it Isiah Thomas versus Ethan Martin. This is a Louisiana team. We're all kinda no-names. Don't look at like a one-on-one contest."
  • Knight seconded that motion. "It would be impossible to say any one matchup is more important than another. Basketball is a team game, won or lost by the team rather than individuals."

It was not widely known before the game that Rudy Macklin would play with one hand figuratively tied behind his back.

  • The injury in the Wichita State game was more serious than had been publicized.
  • Not only was the little finger on his non-shooting hand fractured but a cut on the finger required three stitches to prevent it from reopening. He played the game with a splint on the little finger of his right hand.
  • Rudy scored just four points on 2-of-12 shooting. "It was a factor in that every time I'd catch the ball, it would slip out of my hand, and I would have to re-catch it."

Nevertheless, the Tigers were competitive the first half.

  • The game went back and forth the first half with neither team able to pull away.
  • Coach Knight was not happy with the performance of C Ray Tolbert, who scored only three points in the first half. Several times, Knight fussed at him. "I wasn't doing the things I was supposed to do," said Ray, "so coach sat me down and let me think about it."
  • The Tigers got a big break when Isiah Thomas picked up his third foul with 3:14 left in the first half. That sent Martin to the foul line to shoot a pair of FTs that gave LSU a 30-27 lead. Brown then took Martin out of the game and went to a 2-1-2 spread offense to try to get layups. Macklin said, "I thought when Thomas went out, we were really going to run it up and down the court and get into our 94' game. But Coach kind of slowed it down and went to a 2-1-2 spread." Neither team scored the rest of the half.
  • Indiana shot only 36.4%. "We were content to go in three down at the half," said Knight afterward. "We thought we were getting the good shots. We just weren't putting the ball in the basket. We needed to settle down and take the shot with poise and confidence. We did a good job of doing that in the second half."

The Hoosiers seized control of the game in the opening minutes of the second half.

  • They scored the first 11 points to take a 40-32 lead. The Tigers had overcome bigger leads during the regular season but they didn't respond well to this adversity. "You could look at their faces and tell they were upset," said Turner. "Once they were behind, it looked like they gave up."
  • LSU's first seven possessions produced four missed shots, a turnover, and two charging fouls. "We might have been a little complacent after the first half. Then, I think we lost confidence when we didn't get a shot the first two times down the floor" in the second half." Macklin: "You have a tendency to get overanxious when you are not hitting, and we tried to get back in the game in one minute. We wanted to get back in the game so badly. ... We should have relaxed."
  • Another factor was IU's front line blocking out more effectively on the defensive boards to deprive LSU of one of its major weapons - putbacks.
  • The low point came when Macklin missed a shot, and the Tigers missed four tips. The Hoosiers then hit three 18-footers to increase their lead from six to 12. Brown: "When we could not get the ball to fall, when we had all those tips early in the second half, it seemed to damage our confidence. For the first time this year, we got tight, and we played right into Indiana's hands."
  • A player named Thomas played a big role for Indiana, but it wasn't Isiah. It was reserve guard Jim. With Isiah in foul trouble, Jim Thomas grabbed a team-high nine rebounds - not bad for a 6'3" guard.
  • When Isiah went to the bench with his fourth foul with 16:33 to play, IU didn't miss a beat, outscoring the Tigers 18-8 in his absence.
  • LSU ended the second half making just 7-of-29 FG tries for a pitiful 24.1%. The Tigers' second half points didn't reach double figures until less than three minutes remained in the game.
  • The final score was 67-49, which means the Tigers were outscored 40-19 the second half.
  • Carter was the only Tiger in double figures with 10 points. Turner led Indiana with 20.

Coach Brown couldn't hide his disappointment.

  • "I have to say this is the most bitter loss I've ever experienced simply because I was so certain we'd win the game. I was willing to bet my life on it. What makes it so tough to take is that a guy like Greg Cook tried so hard out there. You really bleed for your players."
  • Dale predicted Indiana would win the championship, making it the third year in a row that the team that eliminated the Tigers in the tournament won it all - Michigan State in 1979 and Louisville in 1980.
Instead of packing up and going home, the Tigers had to play Virginia in the consolation game Monday night - the last time the NCAA staged the meaningless game.
To make the situation more disspiriting, President Ronald Reagan was shot earlier that Monday while leaving a Washington hotel. The NCAA decided to go forward with the two games that night.
  • The Cavaliers lost to North Carolina in the other semifinal.
  • This time it was the first half that did the Tigers in. Even though UVa didn't start their 7-4 sophomore C Ralph Sampson, LSU trailed by eight, 37-29, at the end of a listless first half and by as many as 11 midway through the second half before finally playing with some intensity.
  • Aided by Sampson fouling out with 9:30 remaining, the Tigers took a brief lead at 67-66 on Johnny Jones's jumper with less than five minutes remaining.
  • Virginia regained the lead, but the Tigers had a chance to tie the game in the final minute. Trailing 76-74, LSU hoped to work the ball inside. However, Willie Sims could not find an open man and pass the ball to Tyrone Black. With time running out and no one open, Black fired a 16' shot from the right baseball that bounced off the rim and backboard. Sims fouled trying to grab the rebound. Two free throws made the final score 78-74.
  • UVa sank 34 of 38 free throws, including 25 of 28 the second half.

Rudy Macklin

Howard Carter

Greg Cook

Ethan Martin

Willie Sims

Leonard Mitchell

LSU-Kentucky action





Antoine Carr


Cliff Levingston







Isiah Thomas and Bobby Knight

Rudy Macklin battles for a rebound.

Ray Tolbert


Jim Thomas rebounds. You can see the splint on Macklin's finger.

Dale Brown at the Final Four





Leonard Mitchell and Greg Cook battle Ralph Sampson for a rebound.

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Tiger Den Basketball Archives – I
Tiger Firsts: Basketball Team | LSU National Champs | Joe Adcock | Pistol vs UCLA | Eddie Palubinskas | Dazzling Debut: Chris Jackson | Tiger Firsts: Final Four | Dale Brown Takes Over

Tiger Den Basketball Archives – II
BR Sports Academy | Four Little Points | Harry Rabenhorst | Shaq's 30-point SEC Game | Maravich's Freshman Circus | First AP Poll Ranking | The Dark Knight Strikes | Ricky Blanton | Tigers Are Back!

Tiger Den Basketball Archives – III
"Most Bizarre Set of Circumstances I Ever Saw" | Joe Dean | The Cow Palace | Still Playing at 41 | Pioneer | "It's the socks, Pete!" | Largest Deficit Overcome | Maravich Is for Real

Tiger Den Basketball Archives – IV
"Little Giant" | Shaquille O'Neal | Pete Breaks His Own Mark | What a Difference a Day Makes | When Lexington Went Wild over Beating the Tigers | Superdome Sizzlers

Tiger Den Basketball Archives – V
Pistol Pete Invades the Big Apple
Memorable Games: Kentucky 1978
Profile: Bobby Lowder
1938 SEC Tournament

Tiger Den Basketball Archives – VI
First Visit to the Big Apple
Don't Look Ahead
Profile: Bob Pettit I, II, III, IV
Pete's Farewell

Tiger Den Basketball Archives – VII
Season in Time: 2005-06

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