Tennessee had their chances on Saturday. They were given an advantage before the game even started when LSU starting point guard Tremont Waters was ruled out with an illness. But the Vols gave away multiple opportunities to close the game out, and the Tigers took advantage.
The No. 5 Vols (24-3, 12-2 SEC) fell in overtime against No. 13 LSU (22-5, 12-2 SEC) in Baton Rouge on Saturday afternoon by a score of 82-80. The decisive moment came with less than a second left on the clock in overtime.
Tennessee had possession with the clock ticking down and the game tied at 80. Instead of calling a timeout or trying to set up for a better shot, Lamonte Turner pulled up and shot a three. His attempt missed, and LSU came down with the rebound. Grant Williams made a move for the ball as Javonte Smart turned to go up court, and he was whistled for a foul with six-tenths of a second remaining on the clock.
The Vols were in the double-bonus, and Smart drained both free throws to give the Tigers an 82-80 lead.
Somehow, Tennessee got the in-bounds pass launched down the court and into Grant Williams’ hands, and he actually got off a decent look all things considered. But his wild shot didn’t go in, and LSU prevailed.
Even without their starting point guard and their second-leading scorer, Naz Reid, only getting one point, LSU found a way to win at home against the No. 5 Vols.
The Vols only had 10 assists on 30 made field goals on the afternoon, and they attempted just 16 free throws compared to 31 by LSU. But Tennessee also had 14 turnovers compared to just seven from LSU, and the Tigers outscored the Vols 30-22 in the paint.
Here are our biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s second loss in their last three games.
Smart Steps Up
LSU announced shortly before tip-off that starting point guard Tremont Waters would miss Saturday’s game with an illness. That gave Javonte Smart an opportunity to make his first career start. And the freshman made the most of that opportunity.
Smart hadn’t started since LSU entered SEC play, but he looked unguardable on Saturday. He posted a career-high 29 points and slashed to the lane with ease against UT’s defense. Jordan Bone was playing sick, and Lamonte Turner had trouble staying in front of Smart. That allowed him to get by his man time and time again, and he was able to cut by the post defender and score on layups multiple times.
He led all scorers with his 29 points, and he added five assists and five rebounds. He was 9-of-22 from the field and 9-of-10 from the free throw line.
Skylar Mays also had a big game for the Tigers. He finished with 23 points and was 10-of-12 from the free throw line. He made three of LSU’s eight three-pointers. The only other Tiger player in double-digits in scoring was Kavell Bigby-Williams with 10 points. He also had 10 rebounds.
Jordan Bone was playing with a sickness according to Tennessee’s coaching staff, but he was effective on offense for a stretch that included him hitting two threes in the second half. But it was clear his game was off.
Bone finished with zero assists on the game, marking the first time he had gone a full game without an assist since Tennessee’s first round win over Wright State in the NCAA Tournament last season. He finished Saturday’s game with 13 points and three rebounds but also had three turnovers. He was 5-of-10 from the field, including 3-of-5 from three.
Because of his illness, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden played more minutes at point guard than usual. Neither had a great deal of success, as those two combined for only four assists and two turnovers. Bowden only attempted four field goals and made just one, and Turner was 1-of-7 from three. They combined for 11 points in the game.
Vols Win an Important Battle, but Not the War
One of the biggest match-ups heading into Saturday’s game was the battle of the boards. LSU came into the game as arguably the best rebounding team in the SEC, and they were easily the best at getting offensive rebounds.
On Saturday, the Vols actually won the rebounding battle. But they couldn’t win the game.
Tennessee out-rebounded LSU 43-37 and tied them with 13 offensive rebounds. Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams both had nine rebounds apiece, and Kyle Alexander pulled down six boards. Jordan Bowden had five, and John Fulkerson and Lamonte Turner both had four apiece.
If not for Bigby-Williams’ 10 boards, LSU wouldn’t have had a player with more than seven rebounds on the game.
Admiral Schofield finished with 27 points to go along with his nine rebounds, and Grant Williams ahd 18 points. All but six of Williams’ points came in the second half and overtime.
Nearly Blanked Reid
Naz Reid figured to be a problem for the Vols on Saturday because of his rebounding ability and his physical play. But he was almost a non-factor for a large part of the afternoon.
Reid got in foul trouble early, and that seemed to rattle him. He didn’t score a single point until he made the second of his two free throw attempts with 34 seconds to go in overtime. That make gave LSU a 78-77 lead that Tennessee would erase with their next possession.
In 28 minutes, Reid finished with one point and seven rebounds. He missed all nine of his field goal attempts on the afternoon.
Despite that and Waters’ absence, though, the Tigers found a way to win.
LSU in the Driver’s Seat
With that win, LSU now has a leg up on both Tennessee and Kentucky in the SEC standings.
The Tigers own victories over both the Vols and Wildcats on the season, so they now have a head-to-head tiebreaker over both schools in the SEC standings. So while there’s technically a three-way tie atop the standings right now, LSU is the leader for the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament because of their tiebreakers.
Right now, Tennessee would have the three-seed and Kentucky would have the two-seed.
The Vols will have a chance to get back in the win column when they take on Ole Miss on the road on Wednesday night at 7:00 PM Eastern.