For the fifth time this season, LSU had a game they were playing go into overtime. And for the fourth time this season, they emerged victorious. This time, Vol fans were left shaking their head at the outcome.
No. 5 Tennessee (24-3, 12-2 SEC) fell 82-80 in overtime to No. 13 LSU (22-5, 12-2 SEC) and slipped into a three-way tie atop the SEC standings in the process. The Tigers have the edge over the Vols and Kentucky, though, because they own head-to-head victories over both schools.
The Vols had multiple opportunities to close out their game against LSU. Tennessee led by as much as nine points with 6:44 to go in the second half, and they were still up by three with 2:21 to go after Grant Williams nailed a pair of free throws.
But bad defense and turnovers ruined the Vols’ chances of winning in regulation. It took a Grant Williams layup with 33 seconds remaining to tie the game back up and send it to overtime after LSU had taken a brief lead. The game would then get tied four separate times in overtime, and the lead changed hands five times in the final five minutes.
The fifth time proved to be final one, as Javonte Smart made both his free throws with six-tenths of a second remaining to give LSU the decisive 82-80 edge.
But how did the Vols get there? By a couple of poor decisions on their final possession of overtime.
Kavell Bigby-Williams tied the game at 80 with about eight seconds left, and Tennessee went streaking down the court for a final shot. Instead of calling a timeout or trying to get more in control, redshirt junior guard Lamonte Turner pulled up and shot a contested three with 4.6 seconds remaining. His shot missed the mark, and LSU came down with the rebound. Grant Williams attempted to go after the rebound and a steal, and he was whistled for a foul with 0.6 seconds remaining on the clock.
Tennessee technically got one more possession after that, but it was a heave down court from the in-bounds play, and Grant Williams put up a desperation shot before the buzzer.
So what happened on that final possession? Why wasn’t there a timeout called for the Vols to set up something on offense?
“I think we have a really bad rule in college basketball where coaches can’t call timeouts in that situation,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes explained to reporters after the game on Saturday. “The players are so locked in to trying to play. As much as you talk about it, they shouldn’t have to come down the floor looking at me, seeing if I want a timeout. Which we talked about having a timeout. Coaches should be allowed to call timeout. That’s what we get paid to do, to coach our team. When there is a scrum on the floor, obviously we shouldn’t be able to call timeout.
“But that’s a perfect situation where you want your players to come down the floor ready to play, and if we see something we don’t like, we should be the ones to call timeout.”
Turner’s missed game-winning shot is just the latest in what’s been a rough stretch for the redshirt junior. He’s only made four of his last 23 three-pointers, and he’s averaging just 8.5 points in his last six contests. On Saturday, he had to play more minutes than usual because Jordan Bone was battling flu-like symptoms, and Jordan Bowden was in foul trouble. Bone played 31 minutes, and Bowden played 24.
Turner ended up playing 39 minutes in the game. Only Grant Williams (40) played more minutes for the Vols. Admiral Schofield also played for 39 minutes on Saturday.
According to Barnes, Turner had it in his mind he was shooting on that possession no matter what.
“We had what we wanted to do there, but Lamonte, I think from the time he got the ball he had made up his mind that he was going to stop and pull up and shoot it, which is really not a good decision,” Barnes explained. “At that point in time, he’s not think about looking at me (for a timeout). He’s protecting the ball and looking, thinking about where we should be going.
“We should’ve got a better look that last time down the floor. We didn’t. That situation, you certainly want to have the last shot of the game. We didn’t do that.”
Turner finished the game with just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting, including just 1-of-7 from three. He also missed two free throws after a technical foul was called on LSU late in the second half. He did add four rebounds and three assists, but it’s clear his shooting woes are getting to him.
As for what happened after Turner’s shot, neither Barnes nor Grant Williams really knew what to say after the game.
“Grant obviously was just trying to make a play to rebound, and I guess they collided,” Barnes said. “I didn’t really see it. I guess that’s what happened.”
Williams went after Turner’s missed shot to try and corrall it for a rebound, but he was beaten to the ball by Smart. Williams then attempted to reach for the ball and took an elbow to the chin while contacting Smart himself. The officials blew the whistle, and Williams was called for a foul with less than a second remaining.
The officials reviewed the play to see if more time should be added to the clock, and it looked like they were going to add more time to the 0.6 seconds remaining. Ultimately, though, no time was added.
Smart made both free throws, and Williams’ desperation heave on the other end of the court fell short as time expired.
Williams himself after the game was in the same boat as Barnes. He didn’t even know the foul was called on him at first.
“I couldn’t tell you. I would have to see it on film,” Williams explained to reporters after the game. “I was pursuing the rebound. I don’t think LSU knew it was a foul until the whistle was blown. They kept playing. Can’t tell you. I was focusing on rebounding. I felt a shoulder go into my chin.
“Next thing you know, I hear a whistle, and they were already back down the court. I thought they were still playing and there was another foul (on the other end).”
Tennessee has four games remaining in the regular season to try and finish atop the SEC standings. They’ll need a little help from LSU’s opponents, and the Vols have a prime opportunity to assert themselves next Saturday when they host Kentucky for the regular season rematch between the two teams.