Tennessee continued to struggle on both ends of the court on Saturday, losing their SEC opener 78-64 to LSU.
The Vols (8-5) got a boost with the debut of freshman point guard and mid-year enrollee Santiago Vescovi, and the newest Vol earned a start in his first game wearing the orange and white. Early on, it seemed like Vescovi’s presence was exactly what Tennessee needed, as the Vols were draining three-pointers left and right and held a nine-point lead at one point in the first half.
But then the shots from distance stopped falling, and LSU (9-4) was able to run away with the game.
The Tigers snatched a one-point lead right before halftime, and they asserted themselves in the second half, outscoring the Vols 40-27 after halftime. Tennessee shot just 34.5 percent from the floor in the second half and went just 4-of-13 from three after making nine of their 13 threes in the first half. LSU outscored Tennessee 32-18 in the paint in the game.
Yves Pons and Santiago Vescovi both scored 18 points, and Josiah-Jordan James totaled 15 points. But a trio of Tigers — Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, and Trendon Watford — combined to score 53 points and helped lead LSU past the Vols in the second half.
Here are our three biggest takeaways from the Vols’ second-straight loss and their fourth loss in their last five games.
All eyes were on freshman point guard Santiago Vescovi as he made his Tennessee debut on Saturday, earning a start in his first career game with the Vols. And for the most part, the four-star point guard didn’t disappoint.
Tennessee’s mid-year enrollee finished with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including making six of his nine shots from beyond the three-point arc. Vescovi also brought down six rebounds and tossed out four assists.
The big knock on Vescovi in his debut was turnovers, however.
The freshman turned the ball over nine times in 31 minutes of action, and he had the second-worst plus/minus of any Vol who took the court on Saturday, finishing with a -15.
Considering this was Vescovi’s first-ever game in college and he just joined the team a week ago, the turnovers can be forgiven somewhat. His defense was also lacking at times, and that’s an area that needs to improve even more than his turnovers.
Those giveaways and the poor defense marred an otherwise fairly impressive debut for the mid-year enrollee.
Javonte Smart just loves playing against Tennessee.
In LSU’s 82-80 overtime victory over the Vols last season, Smart went off for a career-high 29 points on 9-of-22 shooting in 44 minutes. On Saturday in Thompson-Boling Arena, Smart again had a field day against UT.
The sophomore led all scorers with 21 points, connecting on seven of his 13 field goal attempts on the afternoon. He was 5-of-9 from three and dished out four assists as well.
Tennessee had no answer for Smart, and if it wasn’t Smart killing the Vols, it was Skylar Mays. The senior guard finished with 17 points, five rebounds, and four assists, shooting 6-of-10 overall and making both of his three-pointers.
In two games against the Vols, Smart has scored a combined 50 points in two wins.
With Lamonte Turner out for the season, senior guard Jordan Bowden is expected to be the Vols’ leader both in terms of scoring and perimeter defense.
The last two games, Bowden’s scoring has been nearly non-existent.
Bowden shot back-to-back air balls at one point in the second half, and that pretty much summed up his day on offense. The senior guard finished just 1-of-12 from the floor and was 1-of-6 from three. Bowden did dish out six assists and collected three rebounds, but his three total points were glaring as the Vols struggled to find offense in the second half.
In Tennessee’s last game out against Wisconsin, Bowden was 2-of-13 overall and 1-of-5 from three, finishing with seven points, six rebounds, and three assists. Bowden is now just 3-of-25 from the floor in his last two games.