The feel good story of LSU sending seniors Brandon Eddlestone and Brian Bridgewater out with a home win was executed to perfection by the Tigers, led by Brandon Sampson and Jalyn Patterson's combined 46 points in a 92-82 win over Tennessee on Wednesday night.
The win not only sent the two seniors out with wins in their final game at the Pete Maravich Center in Baton Rouge, La., but also ended a 15-game losing streak and gave LSU its first home SEC win of the season.
I thought Brian (Bridgewater) and (Brandon) Eddlestone did a tremendous job of starting the game for us," said LSU coach Johnny Jones. "There was no slippage. Both of those guys did a tremendous job in the first few minutes of the game. They did a really good job of setting the tone"I think they took what they did at Georgia, had two good days at practice and applied it."
Johnny Jones' squad found itself down 46-42 at the half and Tennessee having the momentum, having just sunk a layup to go up by 4 at the buzzer. That didn't stop LSU from coming out in the second half and outscoring the Volunteers 50-36 in the second half, en route to the 10-point victory.
Patterson had 22 points and four steals while Sampson tallied 24 points, four rebounds and two assists while making 11-of-12 free throws on the night.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes was disappointed in his team's ability to defend LSU, who has had the firepower to score for much of the season, but hadn't been able to put it together for 40 minutes in 15 games.
"Offensively, they did whatever they wanted to do. From our end, just very disappointing in the way that we defended tonight," Barnes said. "We knew that they had the ability to score a lot of points and we didn’t defend. Even in the first half, we had the lead and we didn’t feel like we had guarded the way we wanted to guard."
With Sampson and Patterson both having career-highs, it was rough for Tennessee forward Grant Williams to watch that happen at the hands of the Tigers. Williams finished with 16 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks.
“Our defense let us down both halves. We let them create transition points on offense," Williams said. "On defense, we just didn’t guard them what so ever. The blew by us, shot over us, and we had our hands down. They’re really good shooters and we just didn’t guard them. It was frustrating.”
From 18:20 to 3:46, Tennessee made one field goal at 9:41. That defensive effort by LSU made all the difference in the game.
"I thought defensively to hold them to a low field goal percentage that they had, especially after they shot 57 percent, that was huge for us," Jones said. "We may only watch film for 14 minutes tomorrow."
The team was able to finally get that defensive effort that its been missing almost all season. Jones said he hadn't seen an effort like that defensively all season. Sampson said after the game that the team had been building for this.
“I think we take steps each game and we showed that we were taking steps in the game before this," Sampson said. "We played better defensively this game. We put two and two together and it just turned out good. I think everything came together.”
LSU was aggressive all night in driving the ball. The Tigers made 27-of-37 free throws on the night and outscored Tennessee 36-18 in the paint. Patience was a big part of that, forward Aaron Epps said.
“Patience and just making sure that we didn't force anything and just playing our game,” said Epps, who had seven of his 10 points in the second half.
With the win, LSU avoided becoming the first SEC team since Alabama in 1968-69 to win a single conference game in a season. For the much-maligned Jones, a smile certainly was warranted after this win.
"Me personally, it certainly felt good getting a win under our belt like that. It's important to understand when you're going through waves like that, to keep these guys up," Jones said. "They've been keeping me up. If you saw a smile, it was real."
For a team that faced repeated letdowns this season, Jones said to see the locker room excited was a nice change.
“It was great to have a chance to walk in there and see the look on these guys’ faces, even on the sideline before getting into the locker room and how engaged they were throughout the game," Jones said. "They were down at halftime, and coming out in the second half, the bench really energized the guys out on the floor. The energy certainly was in the locker room afterward."
“It was kind of crazy because we haven’t gotten a win in a little while," Patterson added. "Everybody was happy and smiling. It was a totally different locker room.”
LSU heads on the road for the final game of the regular season facing Mississippi State on Saturday at 5 p.m. CT on the SEC Network. The SEC Tournament is a week away in Nashville, starting on Wed., March 8.