BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A nauseating 66-65 loss to North Carolina State in the NCAA tournament isn't the way Jordan Mickey's career at LSU should end.
Long after the Tigers' defeat, Mickey was a broken spirit filled with immeasurable pain in the locker room. Just when the final tears and agonizing sobs seemed to pass, another raw round of emotion and anguish rolled in. It's hard to imagine an athlete at any level more dejected and crushed than Mickey was on that dark evening for LSU hoops. He truly hurt.
Mickey's efforts in the final two minutes of the contest simply didn't work out. He was 0-4 from the free throw line and missed a shot at point-blank range with 22 seconds left. The Wolfpack then rolled home the game-winner with less than a tick left on the clock, ending LSU's first NCAA appearance since 2009 in shocking fashion. Certainly, big No. 25 certainly felt responsible.
The truth is this was a total team collapse. When you have a 16-point lead early in the second half and fail to score a single field goal in the final 10:25 of the game, there's plenty of blame to go around.
Despite being shattered by the defeat, Mickey and his red, water-filled eyes turned to each media member that approached him. Unlike some athletes we've covered, there was no 'I'm not talking,' followed by the proverbial quick dart to the hallway and then parking lot. Mickey's voice tremored with regret, but each question was answered politely, including the tough ones. The awful, fresh experience was then relived again. And again.
It was without question a rough, final few weeks for the sophomore from Dallas. After soaring to numerous double-doubles and often scoring 20 points per game or more, Mickey's numbers plummeted as his minutes continued to climb. And apparently, the iron in his blood was also dropping. Mickey's energy and explosiveness to the hoop appeared to be vanishing. The moves beneath the bucket along the baseline often ended helplessly in a crushing double team. Then, Mickey crashed to the Maravich Assembly Center floor after a layup and injured his shoulder during an awful home loss to Tennessee. Out hurt, he was then forced to watch arguably LSU's most thrilling win of the year, as Keith Hornsby's buzzer beater topped No. 18 Arkansas in Fayetteville. Mickey then played only 16 minutes in LSU's SEC Tournament clunker against Auburn and scored but a single point. One of the opposing players threw a cheap shot Mickey's way, while LSU eventually got punched in the gut themselves, losing in overtime.
Then came Pittsburgh. And Pittsburgh should not be the final chapter of Jordan Mickey's collegiate career. The soft spoken, shot blocking machine should write a much different ending for himself. Everyone loves a comeback story and tales of redemption. A year from now at this time, LSU - Mickey, Tim Quarterman, Keith Hornsby, Jalyn Patterson and oh yes, incoming phenom Ben Simmons - should be in the Sweet 16. And maybe, just maybe, Jarell Martin can be there soaring with them as well. We can at least dream, right? The 2016 Final Four will be just down the road in Houston, Texas. The possibilities are clearly very exciting and special.
Next March, Jordan Mickey can swish those pressure-packed free throws with ease. And instead of missing the late game layup, he'll simply dribble once, power to the rim and slam the thing with one hand. During the victorious post-game interviews that follow, Mickey will smile widely and reflect on how the agony of Pittsburgh motivated and drove him relentlessly to this point.
"I wasn't going out like that," he'll state firmly.
Above all, Mickey will say how happy he is that he returned for his junior season. Man, wasn't that the right decision to make? And the NBA is still waiting for me now that I've improved my draft stock.
It can all be done.
Come back, Jordan.