Tigers trip up Tennessee 88-74

The LSU basketball team entertained the biggest home crowd so far this season with what could prove to be one of its biggest wins of the season, beating Tennessee 88-74 Saturday night in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

The crowd of 7,753 saw the Tigers improve their overall record to 10-5 overall but, more importantly, improve their Southeastern Conference record to 2-0 against a team many believe will challenge for the SEC Eastern Division title. Tennessee fell to 11-2, 2-1 in the conference.

 

The win came despite a 25-turnover night for the Tigers who seemed to return to their early-season ball handling difficulties. LSU struggled with keeping the ball in the first few games of the season, but seemed to have found the remedy lately, committing just eight turnovers in a 63-58 win at Arkansas earlier in the week.

 

LSU Coach John Brady said the high turnover count was one of the few things that bothered him about the contest. The Tigers left the floor at halftime with 17 give-aways but committed less than half that many in the second half despite a relentless Tennessee full-court press against an LSU team that played much of the second half with senior guard Darrell Mitchell on the bench in foul trouble.

 

LSU was able to counter its poor ball handling by shooting 64.6 percent from the floor; 76.9 percent in the second half. The Tigers also made 25-32 free throw attempts, helping them extend a lead that hovered between two and eight points for most of the second half.

 

LSU also dominated in the paint, with post men Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas contributing 24 and 17 points respectively and grabbing 19 of LSU's 43 total rebounds. The Tigers out-rebounded the Vols 43-25. Thomas also contributed a whopping nine blocked shots, finishing just a block and a rebound short of the first Tiger triple-double since Shaquille O'Neal recorded one in the 1992 NCAA Tournament against BYU.

 

Tasmin Mitchell and Darrell Mitchell contributed double-digit scoring totals as well with 13 and 11 each.

 

"The fourth goal we had tonight was to take care of the ball," Brady said. "The first 20 minutes, we didn't do a very good job of that. The second half, we had eight turnovers, which against a team like Tennessee, that presses all the time, eight turnovers is quite good for our team to have in half."

 

Tennessee turned the ball over just 11 times. But, the Volunteers struggled to make shots throughout the game as a smothering Tiger defense held Tennessee to 27 percent from the floor in the first half and just 40 percent for the game. Tennessee entered Saturday's game with a proclivity for making three-point shots, with four Vols shooting higher than 40 percent from beyond the line. LSU was able to hold the Vols to just 6-for-22 from beyond the arch, good for just 27 percent.

 

"One of our goals was to take away the threes throughout the whole game," Brady said. "We held their team to 6-for-22. They were shooting 45 percent or so from the three-point line, making 11 or 12 threes a game. That was key for us."

 

LSU concentrated their defensive efforts against guards Chris Lofton and C.J. Watson who both entered Saturday's game averaging 16.8 points per game and 47 percent from beyond the three point arch. Watson led the Vols with 18 points, but made just 1-5 three pointers while Lofton contributed just two points on a woeful 1-7 shooting from the floor.

 

"Chris Lofton is the key to their team making threes," Brady said. "He was 1-7 overall tonight and 0-4 from the three and that's the first time this year anybody's been able to do that to him."

 

Neither team seemed particularly eager or able to score in the first half, combining for just 20 points through the first 10:00 of the half. 

 

LSU's shooting percentage wasn't nearly as poor as Tennessee's in the first half, as the Tigers managed to make a little more than 52 percent of their shots on their way to a 30-27 halftime lead. But, that may have been attributed to the fact they didn't possess the ball long enough to shoot it very often in the first 20 minutes. 

 

Darrell Mitchell, the Tigers' best outside shooting threat, left the court with 4:45 to play in the half after committing his third foul. He was replaced by freshman guard Ben Voogd, who was pressed into service more than usual in the first half thanks to Mitchell's three fouls and the two first-half fouls from Garrett Temple, LSU's other starting guard.

 

Despite the sloppy play and the guard shortages, LSU maintained a small lead throughout the last 16:20 of the first half extending the lead to six points six times and having it cut to one point twice. Thomas controlled the lane, altering nearly every shot taken by the Volunteers in the lane and blocking five of those shots.

 

A 9-0 run to open the second half swelled the LSU lead to 39-27 with 16:42 to play. But that lead was cut back to two points four minutes later when guard Stanley Asumnu capped a 8-0 Volunteer run with a lay-up past Thomas' outstretched arms at the 12:08 mark. Thomas responded on the other end of the floor with a thunderous dunk that incited an already boisterous crowd and Tennessee crumbled, allowing the Tigers to extend the lead back to nine points in less than 2:00.

 

The Vols eventually cut the Tiger lead to four points with 6:56 to play, but LSU was able to stave off the advance and eventually stretched the lead to as much as 15 in the closing 2:00 of the contest.

 

"Winning back-to-back to open conference play is big for this team, especially as young as we are," Brady said. "If we'd have lost those big games against the top-25 teams we played earlier in the year by a combined 11 points with a team full of juniors and seniors, I'd be more concerned. For these guys, it just made them excited. Now, we have to get ready to go on the road and win at Mississippi State."

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