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2/4/19 5:30 am CST

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LSU’s 2019 recruiting class picked up another pledge yesterday when defensive end Soni Fonua announced his commitment to the Tigers after a successful official visit. Fonua (6-4, 265) is a JUCO DE from Salt Lake City, Utah, who prepped at the same school as recent LSU DL signee Siaki Ika and chose LSU over offers from Oklahoma State, Nebraska, UFC, and others. The more I learn and see of Fonua, the more I’m convinced he’s s great get for the Tigers. He moves so well for a player his size. (Check out his video highlights.) I share more thoughts on him and his commitment, what it means for LSU’s signing class, and other topics including baseball and basketball in today’s Monday Morning Mail Call.

DANDYDON.COM MONDAY MORNING MAIL CALL

From David: Saw your tweet about the JUCO DE committing to LSU. I haven’t heard a lot about this 3-star and I hope I’m wrong but I have a sneaky feeling this means things aren’t looking good with LSU’s other defensive line targets. What’s your take?

My Response: I understand where you’re coming from, David, but I don’t think that’s neccessarily the case. I’ve said all along that I think LSU is hoping to take at least two of the four DLs who visited over the weekend (Sopher, Young, Moore, and Fonua) and would gladly take three. They really like Fonua, and I like him too. He played at the same high school as LSU signee Siaki Ika and the two are very well-coached prospects who bring a lot of energy and passion for the game. I think he’ll be a great addition to a defensive line that is taking on quite a Polynesian flavor with Breiden Fehoko, Ika, and now Fonua. But back to your question, I still feel like LSU has a very legit shot of signing either Sopsher or Young, and landing both is not out of the question.

From Billy: For your mailbag, I’ll go ahead and ask the obvious. Who’s your final six for Signing Day?

My Response: Well, I went back and reviewed my answer to this same question in last week’s Mail Call, and surprisingly, I haven’t changed much since then. Here’s where I’m at today with six spots remaining.

I feel confident about these four being in the class, especially the first three.

1. Soni Fonua (100%)
2. Maurice Hampton (90%)
3. Devonta Lee (90%)
4. Christian Williams (85%) 

After that, I’ll go with

5. Ishmael Sopsher (55%)

6. For the sixth spot, I think LSU would love it to be Bryon Young, and I’ll put his chances at 45% after what I hear was a great weekend visit. I think if LSU misses on either Sopsher or Young, then TE Garmon Randolph makes it into the class. If LSU misses on both, then I think we might see a spot left open.

From Chad: Where does LSU stand with these guys?

Nathan Pickering
Charles Moore
Bryan Young
Jared Harrison-Hunte 

My Response: Pickering is off the board after re-affirming his commitment to Mississippi State. Harrison-Hunte never visited LSU, so I don’t anticipate him being part of the class. I’ve heard Bryan Young’s LSU visit this weekend went very well, but the vibe hasn’t been as positive about Moore’s. 

(Turning to baseball…)

From Chad: In reading your reports a few weeks ago, it seemed like a strong case could be made for LSU’s pitching staff looking like the best in the entire country, on paper. Now, based on the news from the last week (ex. Major injury), I’m fearful it could be pretty bad. Plus, wasn’t Hess better as a closer than a starter? Didn’t he have a rocky season last year? (Or is my memory just failing me?) And, now he’s the “ace?” I’d love to know if/why I shouldn’t be panicking about the pitching staff. 

My Response: Understandable questions, Chad, but let me start by assuring you there’s no need to panic. Zack Hess’ injury is not expected to be longterm (knock on wood), so I’m assuming the “major injury” you’re referring to is the news of AJ Labas being out for the season. That news was not wholly unexpected, as Mainieri expressed a lot of uncertainty about Labas’ status during Media Day and was still very high on his pitching staff. Part of that is because LSU returns Hess and Eric Walker who have each been very effective starters, but it’s also about three highly heralded newcomers who are generating a ton of excitement – Landon Marceaux, Jaden Hill, and Cole Henry. When I last spoke to Mainieri, it sounded like Marceaux was in line to be a weekend starter and the other two would start midweek games, but since then, the competition has tightened as all three have thrown really well. And that’s not even mentioning Ma'Khail Hilliard who was a very good weekend starter most of last season. Granted, he is dealing with an injury of his own, but the fact that he will likely be used in a bullpen role once he returns to health says a lot about LSU’s starting depth. As for your question about Hess being the ace, two things to keep in mind. He was absolutely electric at times last year as a starter, and his only issue was consistency. At Media Day, Mainieri made it very clear that Hess will be the Friday night starter for the entire season, with no consideration given to moving him to the bullpen. He said Hess showed great improvement over the summer, is much more consistent than before, and looks like a potential first-rounder. Unless his groin injury turns out to be more serious than expected, LSU’s pitching staff still looks exceptionally strong.

From Cole: I saw your write up on the unfortunate situation with Labas and it reminded me that I haven’t heard anything about Storz in a while. Do you know the scoop on him? Is he still battling injuries?

My Response: Storz is still recovering from his shoulder injury, but the last I heard is that he could return by late April or early May if things go as planned, which would be right at about the mid-point of SEC play. 

(Turning to basketball…)

From Chuck: Scott: Do you think this loss to Arkansas might just be a wake-up call. I think had the Tigers pulled it out, it may have given the team too comfortable of a feeling. Sorta like a risk taker at your work, he becomes more comfortable with each risk and no bad consequences. I believe they were playing with fire and were finally burned. I also believe this result will be a valuable lesson learned that will pay rewards down the stretch. Just my opinion. They are still exciting to watch.

My Response: I agree, Chuck, this team is awfully fun to watch, even in a heartbreaker like that one. And yeah, I’m with you on that being a needed wake-up call, and Coach Wade alluded to that too when he said they’ve been walking a tight rope for about two weeks and when you do that you’re eventually going to fall. If they had of won as they did in Missouri, they might very well have had a false sense of confidence in thinking they can play half speed for much of the game and still have success. While we’re playing what-ifs, though, just imagine what would have happened had Tremont Waters and Marlon Taylor been successful on that last alley-alley-oop attempt? Don’t get me wrong, that was a very unwise decision, but man would it have brought the house down! LSU’s remarkable comeback would have plastered the airwaves, and LSU basketball fans would still be on cloud nine today.

From Kerry: As always, thank you for your site as it is as sure as my morning cup of get up and go. In reference to the hardwood, I'm really excited about what Coach Wade has going! In hindsight, just as Coach Wade alluded to, I would've liked to see him call a timeout in that situation but in the moment with Tremont Waters on the controls...if we make that basket it's a different topic today. Still coming from behind in two of the last three isn't a recipe for success. You know, when football season ended I immediately started a countdown to next season but this Will Wade team is gonna be fun to watch coming down the stretch. I believe they are going to be responsible for some dreams of other teams to come crashing down in March. If we can just find a way to stay in the game instead of falling behind these Tigers will win some more games. Streaks end for the best in team sports. I can't wait to see how they respond. My guess they will come into the next games fighting like Tigers. You?

My response: Couldn’t have said it better myself, Kerry. This Tiger team has shown its resilience time and time again, and I can’t wait to see how they respond this Wednesday at Mississippi State. Like you, I believe they’ll come out fighting. Between these Tigers, football recruiting, and the imminent start of LSU baseball, it’s a great time to be a Tiger!  

That’s it for today. Thanks to all who chimed in. Stay tuned for the resumption of our list of Top Louisiana Prospects for 2020, as we’ll publish numbers 10-6 tomorrow and the top-five and complete list on Wednesday.

Lastly, please note that our very important annual fundraiser is quickly coming to a close and will end in two days. If you enjoy these daily doses of Tiger news and have been meaning to pledge your support, please take a moment to do so today. If you have already answered the call, my family and I sincerely thank you. To find out how and why to help, please read this important message. Thanks in advance for your consideration.

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2/3/19 5:55 am CST

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Good morning, Tiger Fans,

An 18-point second half deficit set the stage for another memorable comeback for the LSU men’s basketball team, but unlike the Mizzou contest, the Tigers couldn’t close out the win and saw their 10-game win streak end with a 90-89 loss to the Razorbacks. Arkansas shot an unreal 58 percent from the field (54 percent from 3-point range) to snap LSU’s 18-game home win streak, but the Tigers showed a lot of fight and were right there in it with a one-point lead and a golden opportunity to win with less than 40 seconds to play. That’s when Tremont Waters made a head-scratcher of a decision and gave the ball away on a foolish alley-oop attempt that he’s sure to be regretting today. But really, as Coach Wade said after the game, the loss was about more than that one play. 

Here’s Jake’s recap of how LSU suffered its first conference loss of the season in a thriller of a game.

Following Arkansas’ early 4-0 lead, Waters proved yet again why he’s one of the toughest covers in the SEC when he put the ball on the ground and drove it to the rim to get the Tigers going. That generated an 8-0 run by the Tigers. On the defensive end, LSU doubled Gafford inside early and forced other Arkansas players to beat them, but that would prove troublesome with Arkansas’ hot shooting behind the arc. Turnovers plagued LSU and opened the door for a 13-0 Arkansas run. Five turnovers in four minutes, combined with Skylar Mays being ice cold from the perimeter, helped the Hogs pull ahead, 20-11. It also helped that Arkansas hit a remarkable eight of its first 13 attempted 3-pointers. The PMAC came alive when LSU gave great effort on the defensive end to get a much-needed stop right before Waters drained one of his signature deep 3-pointers to reduce the deficit to three. Perhaps the sequence of the half came with less than four minutes to play when Marlon Taylor slammed home a put-back before Kavell Bigby-Williams jammed home another put-back on the following possession to tie the game at 34. Arkansas found a way to get it inside to Gafford, who scored 15 of his 23 points in the first half, and lead LSU 45-41 at the break. Perhaps the craziest stat from the first half was LSU had 12 free throws made compared to Arkansas’ one.

It’s only fitting that Arkansas began the second half by hitting a 3-pointer. One Gafford dunk later and LSU was staring at a nine-point deficit. Any positive momentum from LSU was matched by Arkansas. LSU had five turnovers during a three-minute stretch and Arkansas couldn’t miss (inside or out). The Razorbacks went on a run where it hit 17 of its last 22 points, which produced a double-digit lead on the road. A 14-2 run gave Arkansas a commanding 66-48 advantage. But LSU wasn’t going down without a fight. And the crowd would see to that. Though the Tigers had a four-minute field goal drought, LSU players found a way to get to the line and little by little chip away. The Tigers also started getting stops with that diamond press LSU used late against Missouri. A finger roll by Javonte Smart capped off a 7-0 run that had the PMAC rocking. But then Isaiah Joe was left wide open on the other end for a 3-pointer that made it a 14-point advantage for Arkansas. It was a gut punch that resonated throughout the PMAC. But it wasn’t a death blow. LSU came right back with another 7-0 run. Mays was an animal in transition, feeding off of the home crowd that started to sound like the old Deaf Dome. After Joe missed a free throw, Smart drove and dished it out to Mays, who knocked down a trey that brought the Tigers to within six. An Emmitt Williams put-back dunk with 5:30 to play had LSU within four points as 13,000-plus let their voices be heard. LSU cut it to one a few possessions later with a Naz Reid dunk. And with less than four minutes to play, Taylor met Gafford at the rim with a block before Smart gave LSU its first lead of the second half on the other end with a nice finish at the rim. LSU and Arkansas traded leads at the free throw line, and Gafford fouled out with two minutes remaining. With less than 40 seconds to play, Waters threw a halfcourt alley-oop to Taylor that missed the mark. It was early into the shot clock and quite frankly, it was a poor choice to go for a high-risk play like that. Down 89-88, Jones knocked down a jumper with 22 seconds left to give Arkansas the lead. LSU had several shot attempts to win it on the other end but none of them fell.

Here are court-level video highlights from Tiger TV and  the complete boxscore, and below are a few comments from Coach Will Wade which I think are on the mark:

Opening Statement: 

“I want to thank all of our fans. I thought they were awesome. They almost willed us back. I thought they were phenomenal. That was as loud as I’ve heard the arena since I’ve been here. Very disappointed we couldn’t pull it out. Arkansas, give them credit. They played tremendously. They played harder than we did for a majority of the game. We cranked it up there with about 14 minutes left. Arkansas played great. Their penetration and pinch offense, they were sharing the ball. They found their open shooters. We didn’t guard them nearly as well as we needed to. (Daniel) Gafford had another big day. Just a tough loss for us.”

On what the teachable moment is after a loss like this…

“We’ve been cruising through this for a while. This was kind of the same as Missouri. We kind of escaped that. When you walk a tight rope, we’ve been walking a tight rope for about two weeks, you’re eventually going to fall off. We just fell off today.”

On Water’s alley-oop attempt…

“I probably should have called a timeout and got us in a set there. Tremont’s going to make the right play nine out of 10 times. He's our guy, and we trust him.”

Up next, the Tigers will look to rebound from the loss in an 8 p.m. matchup Wednesday against No. 22 Mississippi State. The Tigers and Bulldogs will meet on ESPN2 .

In football recruiting, there’s really nothing new to report at this time as we likely won’t hear anything about the official visits until after they end tonight. If they were at the basketball game late in the second half, I can’t imagine they would have been anything less than impressed by the sellout crowd of 13,000+ and by the way it came alive during LSU’s comeback. The fact that LSU lost the game won’t have any bearing on these players’ decisions, but the electric atmosphere very well could. 

In addition to the high-profile recruits we already knew were visiting, 247Sports reports that another 2019 prospect is taking an unofficial visit to LSU this weekend. His name is Jacob Bernard and he’s a dual-sport athlete from Lakeshore High in Metairie. According to the report, LSU is looking at him as a potential preferred walk-on, and he would be an ideal one. It’s not often you have a chance to land a walk-on who holds SEC (Kentucky) and Ivy League (Yale) scholarship offers like this 5-10, 193-pound athlete does, and what makes him especially attractive is that he would play both baseball and football should he chose to walk-on at LSU. As most of you know, walk-ons are essentially “freebies” as they count toward neither the 25-initial counter limitation nor the 85-man roster limitations. 

Sticking to the topic of football and recruiting, let’s continue our look ahead at Louisiana’s top prospects for 2020. Earlier this week, we revealed numbers 60-26 and today we’ll profile another five. 

Top LA Football Prospects for the Class of 2020
(For numbers 16-60, click here.) 

15.  Brandon Williams (OLB) 6’3” 220, Newman – Has a quick burst and shows great ability to rush the passer; Uses his hands exceptionally well, allowing him to shed would-be blockers and attack the ball carrier; Sure tackler in space.

15. (tie) Jalen Lee (DT) 6-3, 285, Live Oak –  A raw, large athlete that has the ability to rush the passer; Has very active hands allowing him to fight off blockers; Shows good speed running down plays;  Very strong and can command double teams and push the pocket; Hits through the ball carrier and shows good form full tackles.  

14.  Caleb Holstein (QB) 6’5” 210, St Thomas More – Reads defenses very well knowing where he needs to go with the football quickly; Shows a quick release and his throws are timed well; Has excellent touch on deep balls and shows he can make accurate throws when pressured. 

13.  Bud Clark (S) 6’1”, 170, Alexandria Senior High – A flat-out playmaker, he diagnoses plays quickly and reacts; As a safety plays as a natural center fielder going up and getting the football;  Also, versatile enough to help in the return game. 

12.  Sederick Van Pran (OG) 6’4”, 305, Warren Easton – Big guy with nimble feet;  A real road grader who excels in run blocking; Has a mean streak and finishes his blocks; Like most high school O-linemen, needs some improvement in the pass game but has the physical ability to overcome that.

11. CamRon Jackson (DT) 6’6”, 271, Haynesville – Tall and long; Does a good job using his hands and length to shed blockers; Runs very well for his size and has good get-off the football; Plays with a high motor always giving great effort. 

Closing Tidbits:

• Huge congratulations are in order for former LSU football standouts Johnny Robinson and Kevin Mawae who were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame yesterday. The pair became the fourth and fifth LSU players to earn the prestigious honor, joining fullback Jim Taylor (1976), quarterback Y.A. Tittle (1971) and halfback Steve Van Buren (1965). Robinson, 80, was a member of LSU’s 1958 national championship team and played 12 stellar seasons professionally for the Dallas Texans and Kansas City Chiefs. Mawae, 48, was at LSU from 1989 to 1993 and was an 8-time All-Pro selection during his 15 years in the NFL. Hats off to both of these men for the well-deserved honor. 

• Here are some stats from yesterday’s baseball scrimmage that really caught my eye. (Chris Reid goes 1-3 in his first weekend back, and check out Landon Marceaux!)

@LSUBaseballData:
STATS FROM 2/2/19 SCRIMMAGE: 

Daniel Cabrera 2-3, 3B, RBI
Hal Hughes 1-2, RBI
Antoine Duplantis 1-3, RBI
Gavin Dugas 1-3, SB
Chris Reid 1-3 

Landon Marceaux 4.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 5 K's

• As I often do, I invite you to send your LSU comments and questions (any sport) for our Monday Morning Mail Call.

• You know I can’t let you go without mentioning that our annual fundraiser will end in just three days. If you’ve been meaning to pledge your support for these daily doses of Tiger News that have been running for 22 years straight, please don’t hesitate. Time is running out! To find out how to pledge your support and why it’s important, please read this message. Thanks and have a great Sunday.



 

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