ORLANDO, Fla. — Tennessee looked like it would coast to an easy opening round win over Louisiana but the Ragin’ Cajuns had other ideas, making a furious late game push. The Vols made enough stops and just enough free throws late to earn a 58-55 victory.
Here’s three quick takeaways as Tennessee advances to face Duke in the Round of 32 Saturday.
A Kill Shot To End The First Half
Tennessee was struggling offensively with Santiago Vescovi on the bench with two fouls. The
Vols hadn’t scored in six minutes and Louisiana used the long scoring drought to tie the game with an 8-0 run.
Rick Barnes’ decision to keep Vescovi on the bench looked foolish but the Vols caught the smallest of breaks. Louisiana star Jordan Brown — who scored 12 first half points — picked up his second foul and spent the rest of the half on the bench.
Tennessee capitalized. The Vols scored straight out of the half’s final media timeout and it led to a fantastic close to the half.
Jahmai Mashack sparked the run with a pair of midrange jumpers and Tyreke Key had a nice finish at the basket to give the Vols’ offense life.
Even then, Tennessee’s lead was just six points with a minute left in the half. The Ragin’ Cajuns dared Olivier Nkamhoua to take the top of the key three-pointer all half. The senior power forward made them pay with 50 seconds left in the half and Uros Plavsic tipped a shot in as the first half winded down.
Tennessee was playing poor and in a bind with five minutes left in the half. Then the Vols took control of the game with a 11-0 “kill shot” that gave them a double-digit first half lead.
Turnovers Plague Tennessee And Louisiana
Turnovers have been an issue for Tennessee all season but have particularly reared their ugly head since Zakai Zeigler’s injury. That proved to be the case again in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as Tennessee turned the ball over 18 times.
The Vols were particularly poor taking care of the ball in the first half turning it over 12 times. A number that startling will get you beat in a lot of NCAA Tournament games and it was a major reason the Ragin’ Cajuns pulled even with Tennessee late in the first half.
Some of the turnovers were extremely poor and simple mistakes. Others may have been due to Vescovi — who is the Vols’ best ball handler — being on the bench. Either way, they were bad mistakes that could have proved much more costly.
They were less costly because their own ball pressure led to a miserable evening for Louisiana. The Ragin’ Cajuns turned the ball over 14 times in the first round matchup.
Tennessee was effective turning Louisiana’s turnovers into points, scoring 12 points off of the Ragin’ Cajuns blunders.
Tennessee Holds Off Louisiana Following Furious Run
Louisiana seemed dead near the halfway point in the second half. The Vols’ defense was harassing the Ragin’ Cajuns and Tennessee’s lead was up to 18 points. They looked like they’d cruise to the finish line and an opening round victory.
But that’s not March Madness. Kobe Julien hit Louisiana’s first three-point with just under 11 minutes to play in the game. He hit another two possessions later.
After Brown got his second basket of the half, Julien went right back to work with a bucket and a three-pointer. Barnes finally wanted a timeout to talk about it, but not before a 13-0 run pulled Louisiana right back into the game.
Like he did in the first half, Mashack was crucial in calming the storm. Jonas Aidoo ended the run with a layup but Louisiana immediately answered with a basket of its own.
Then on consecutive possessions, Mashack hit a midrange jumper as the shot clock expired and then got fouled at the basket and calmly drilled two free throws.
The Vols’ struggles to score continued and Louisiana was able to pull all the way back within three points even after Tennessee pushed the lead to eight points. Josiah-Jordan James and Julian Phillips split free throws late and Tennessee did enough to avoid the first round upset.
Tennessee takes on Duke in the Round of 32 Saturday in Orlando. Tip-off time has not been announced yet.