LSU pulls away late, wins easy over No. 16 Tennessee 78-65
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Cam Thomas scored 25 points, JaVonte Smart added 20 and LSU beat No. 16 Tennessee 78-65 on Saturday.
The Volunteers (14-5, 7-5 Southeastern Conference) trailed for most of the game but were within 50-46 nearly midway through the second half. Tennessee made just six field goals over the final 12 minutes, though, and the Tigers stretched their lead as big as 17.
Thomas missed 10 of 16 field goal attempts, but he was 11 of 11 at the foul line. Smart knocked down 8 of 13 field goal tries, and Darius Days had 14 points for LSU (13-6, 8-4).
“We played probably our best game to date,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “We got contributions from everyone. It was a total team effort. This is something we can continue to build off of.”
Jaden Springer led the Vols with 21 points. Santiago Vescovi had 13 points and Keon Johnson added 10 points.
After winning two games in impressive fashion against Kentucky and Georgia, the Volunteers struggled against the Tigers.
“The inconsistency is coming from our older players,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We shouldn’t be putting the pressure on the younger guys (freshmen Springer and Johnson). They are talented players, but we still need a balance. Consistency has to come from a group of guys on both ends.”
LSU’s defense caused problems for Tennessee in the first half. The Vols went almost nine minutes without a field goal as LSU grabbed a 28-16 lead. Thomas and Smart combined for 13 points during the Tigers’ 16-4 run.
However, Tennessee reduced its deficit over the last four minutes before halftime when LSU scored only three points on a 3-pointer by Days. Two 3-pointers by Johnson helped the Volunteers pull within 31-26 by the end of the half.
“We set the tone with our defense,” Wade said. “We were really, really active on defense in the first half. We got our hands on a lot of balls.”
Tennessee trailed by just one point less than two minutes into the second half. The Tigers answered with a 13-5 run, and both Thomas and Days scored five points as LSU took a 46-37 lead with 15:06 remaining in the game.
With their advantage down to four points two minutes later, the Tigers got seven straight points from Smart to build a double-digit lead. A three-point play by Smart put LSU on top 57-46 with 11:21 left. The Tigers were on top by double figures the rest of the game.
Tennessee: The Volunteers have lost four of their last seven SEC games.
LSU: The Tigers put together back-to-back victories for the first time in almost a month. The Tigers have registered double-digits victories against Mississippi State and Tennessee in their last two games.
For the third time in his career, Smart played a huge role in LSU knocking off Tennessee. A seven-point individual run by Smart enabled the Tigers to take control in the second half. As a freshman two seasons ago, Smart scored 29 points in an 82-80 LSU victory in overtime. Last year, Smart scored 21 points in the Tigers’ 78-64 victory over the Volunteers in Knoxville.
Another poor offensive outing by Tennessee resulted in another SEC loss for the Vols. Tennessee made only 36% of its field goals while failing to crack the 65-point mark. In all five of the Volunteers’ conference losses, they have scored 65 points or fewer. No Vols starter shot higher than 44% against LSU.
Tennessee: Hosts South Carolina on Tuesday.
LSU: Hosts Auburn next Saturday.