Tigers take over Knoxville

Trent Johnson and the LSU Tigers took to the road to find redemption after a home loss to Xavier. Heading back to Baton Rouge from Knoxville after a 79-73 Southeastern Conference road win, the Tigers found just that.

Marcus Thornton and Chris Johnson led the way for the Bayou Bengals, helping the Tigers move to 16-4 and 4-1 in SEC play on the year. Thornton scored 29 points on the evening, including a pair of back-to-back buckets that put the Tigers up 74-71 with just over 2:00 to play.

 

Johnson came up big in the paint for the Tigers, his most clutch moment coming when he blocked a shot of the Volunteer's Wayne Chism with :46 seconds left to play, helping LSU to hold out for the win.

 

Johnson took to the charity stripe after the block, hitting both free throws.

 

"[Johnson] is a good shot-blocker," said Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl. "LSU did a good job on Tyler Smith and knowing how important he is to our game. We have been in position to win the last two games, but lost both of them. It seemed we could not get to the free-throw line."

 

The Volunteers (12-7, 3-2) squandered their final opportunity to crawl back into the game when Smith drove baseline under the Tennessee basket and out of bounds, giving the Bayou Bengals possession of the ball once more.

 

Bo Spencer hit one of two free throws, putting the Tigers on top 77-73.

 

Scotty Hopson closed the game out in fitting fashion for the Volunteers, turning the ball over in a short-lived final possession. Thornton took to the line for the games closing points, hitting the pair of free throws to end the scoring at 79-73.

 

"Without question I think we did a really good job of keeping our poise, considering the fact that Tasmin played the whole second half in foul trouble and as banged-up as we are," LSU head coach Trent Johnson said. "We beat a very good basketball team. This is the best win we have had all year long, no question. Poise and composure were important, especially when they made a run and it got really loud in this place."

 

The Tigers came out hot against the Volunteers to start the game, dominating much of the first half with a combination of solid inside and outside shooting.

 

Thornton got out of the gates quickly, scoring eight points in the first five minutes of play, finishing the half with 12 points.

 

The Baton Rouge-native helped the Tigers to hit ten of their first 13 shots, giving Johnson's team a comfortable lead which they held throughout the first half.

 

Inside, Johnson became the Tiger's go-to-guy from the tip. The Volunteers had no answer for the Montross-native early, seeing Johnson score six points through the first ten minutes of play.

 

Junior Tasmin Mitchell also had a hot hand early, scoring ten points before half.

 

Pearl's squad attempted to work the ball in the paint to Chism early and often, but the Tiger defense denied the junior of any buckets inside.

 

The Jackson-native broke his scoring drought on a three point shot with ten minutes to play in the first half, pulling the Volunteers back within five. Chism would head to the locker room, however, with just six points in the half.

 

While Johnson's squad showed its' typical man to man set, Pearl and the Volunteers attempted to slow down the red hot Tiger offense with a combination of both man and zone, the latter giving the Tigers more trouble through the first 20 minutes.

 

Though the Bayou Bengals led Tennessee 43-38 at the half, the Volunteers showed great promise from their bench play, seeing nine players get onto the scorecard in the opening frame. On the evening, Tennessee's bench outscored LSU's 26-4.

 

The two SEC foes remained back and forth throughout the second half, with the Volunteers eventually closing a 14 point deficit down to just three with nine minutes remaining.

 

At the 4:23 mark, Pearl and the Volunteers took the lead for the first time.

 

Yet, Thornton would come to the rescue for the Tigers, tying the game at 69-all before capitalizing on another bucket and foul, giving the Tigers the lead for good with two minutes to play.

 

Chism led all Volunteer scorers with 19 points and nine rebounds. Forward Emmanuel Negedu was the only other Volunteer to reach double digit scoring, recording 11 points and a pair of rebounds coming off of the bench.

 

Smith finished with nine points and seven rebounds, while Hopson recorded eight points and four rebounds.

 

Johnson said after the game that he was not surprised by Mitchell's dominance in the matchup against Smith.

 

"Tasmin has held his own against everybody all year long, and he has a lot of respect for Tyler [Smith]," he said. "Smith impacts winning unlike anybody else in our conference and probably in the nation. [Mitchell] has done a good job all year long of being consistent and playing within himself."

 

The Volunteers hit on 22-of-52 attempts from the field (42.3 percent), 8-of-19 from three point range (42.1 percent) and 21-of-26 from the charity stripe (80.8 percent).

 

Spencer finished with 15 points and four rebounds for the Tigers, while Mitchell wrapped up with 10 points and six rebounds.

 

Perhaps none were more impressive, however, than Johnson, who recorded a double-double on 14 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks.

 

"This whole team is getting better," Johnson said, "And Chris Johnson is getting better. He has played very good basketball."

 

One of the lone dark spots for the Bayou Bengals on the evening was their bench play, seeing senior Terry Martin record the Tigers' only four points out of reserves.

 

The Tigers hit on 29-of-61 shooting (47.5 percent), 5-of-20 from behind the arc (25 percent) and 16-of-20 (80 percent) from the free throw line.

 

LSU showed no sign of wearing down, despite what many thought to be a tough stretch after adding the Xavier game into the thick of conference play.

 

Johnson said that despite the difficult slate of games, he was sure that his squad would be up to the challenge.

 

"I was not concerned about fatigue, not at all, just from the standpoint that we have backed off in practice," he said. "Our nonconference schedule enabled us to have a lot of guys manage their minutes. We are getting contributions from our bench. This time of year, kids do not get fatigued."

 

The Tigers return home to face Arkansas on Jan. 31 at 5 p.m.

 

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