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Offense sputters as No. 16 Vols lose to LSU on road

No. 16 Tennessee sputtered on offense Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge to lose to LSU 78-65 and fall to 14-5 on the season, and 7-5 in conference play.

The Vols shot 35% from the field for the game while allowing LSU to shoot 52%. Star freshman Cameron Thomas led the Tigers with a game-high 25 points. Javonte Smart once again had a big game against the Vols, scoring 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field.

“We just did not do a good job with our one-on-one defense,” Vols head basketball coach Rick Barnes said following the game. “We don’t ever want to leave someone on an island by themselves and I didn’t think we did a good job of filling our gaps to help. Because our offense wasn’t what we wanted it to be, it hurt our defense.”

Jaden Springer scored a team-high 21 points as he nearly recorded a triple-double with seven assists and six rebounds. Springer accounted for a third of Tennessee’s points, receiving little help from his teammates. Santiago Vescovi chipped in 13 points, while Keon Johnson scored 10, respectively.

“We still need more from other players,” Barnes said. “We can’t rely on Keon and Jaden to guard the other team’s best players for the most part and then come down and end up with the ball in their hands because other guys aren’t trying to get involved. We’re not executing the way we need to execute.”

Barnes rolled out a new lineup against LSU. Senior forward Yves Pons returned from a one-game hiatus due to a knee injury and resumed his spot in the starting lineup. The insertion of Pons led to fellow senior forward John Fulkerson taking a seat on the bench for the first time all season.

Pons and Fulkerson struggled against the Tigers, combing for just seven points. Fulkerson scored four points and grabbed five rebounds in 25 minutes. Pons scored just three points on 1-of-5 shooting.

“Within our offense, there’s ways for them to get the ball, but they have to want to do it,” Barnes said of the play of Fulkerson and Pons. “Early in the game, we were just standing around. I don’t know what we were doing… we’re still searching for consistency from some key guys.”

Tennessee began the game knocking down shots. Both teams swapped buckets over the first eight minutes, but the Vols then went cold from the field. After a Santiago Vescovi three with 12:39 to go to tie the game at 12-all, UT didn’t make a field goal for nearly nine minutes to allow LSU to go on a 16-4 run to take a 28-16 lead until Keon Johnson knocked down a three to end the scoring drought.

Despite the LSU run, Tennessee closed out the half on a 10-3 run courtesy of two Johnson three’s. The Tigers led by just five at the half, 31-26, despite leading by as many as 12 and the Vols shooting 29%.

Tennessee began the second half the way it ended the first half. It out-scored LSU 9-5 to cut the lead to one, 36-35, with 18:03 remaining. It would be as close as the Vols would cut it, however, as the Tigers quickly responded with a couple of baskets to push the lead back to double-digits.

LSU out-scored Tennessee 47-39 in the final frame behind 59.3% shooting from the field. The Tigers led by as many as 17. UT cut it back to 10, but Vescovi missed a three the could have cut the lead to seven and LSU went on to close out the game.

The Vols now return home for a two-game stretch following three road games in the past four contests. Tennessee will face South Carolina at 8:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday night before turning its attention to a date with Kentucky next Saturday at 1 p.m.

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