LSU head coach Trent Johnson paced the sidelines and barked his fair share of final-minute calls, but in the end a missed three-point attempt by Tasmin Mitchell spelled another loss for the Tigers.
“We got ourselves into a good situation,” said Johnson of Mitchell’s shot with seven seconds to play. “We knew they were going to double-team Bo [Spencer], and he was supposed to turn it back to Tasmin. We got it to where Tasmin got a look, but he just ended up too deep.”
With the game at 57-54, Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson grabbed the missed shot and knocked down a pair of free throws to move No. 14 Tennessee to 17-4 overall and 5-2 in the Southeastern Conference
Through eight games – and with eight to go – LSU (9-13, 0-8) remains without a win in SEC play, moving their overall losing streak to 11 of their last 12 outings.
Spencer and Mitchell were the lone Tigers to find any offensive rhythm against the Volunteers, seeing LSU get just five points from Storm Warren and a combined 11 points from the other eight players that logged minutes.
“We continued to give maximum effort,” Spencer said. “We just need more production off the bench.”
Spencer was 8-for-19 for 25 points, while Mitchell added 13 points, 17 rebounds and a pair of blocks.
For Tennessee, the leader came from down low. Forward Wayne Chism, who handled the Tigers inside from start to finish, went for 20 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.
“Chism seems like he has been around forever,” Johnson said. “He’s strong, and he is locked in and playing within the system. He is much more efficient [than last season].
“They don’t get rattled,” he added. “It’s what you get when you are talented, skilled, well coached and have some experience.”
After LSU hit a 5-0 spurt to begin the game, Tennessee answered with a 20-5 run that put the Tigers behind by double-digits with three minutes left in the first half.
The Volunteers held a 26-16 lead when the teams hit the locker rooms, and head coach Bruce Pearl’s side didn’t seem ready to let that lead slip when they hit the floor in the second half. With Chism’s layup with 5:25 left in the game, Tennessee still led by double-digits.
“We kept fighting, we just couldn’t get over the hump and give ourselves a margin for error,” Johnson said. “Tennessee did a good job in late-game situations; they ran their stuff late in the clock and they forced us to defend.”
With a pair of free throws by Spencer and layup by Mitchell, the Tigers narrowed the deficit to six points with 3:32 to play. By the 1:40 mark, the lead had been cut to four.
Holding on by a thread, Mitchell attempted a three-point shot from the right side with 17 seconds to play that rimmed out. However, a shooting foul by J.P. Prince sent the senior forward to the line for three shots.
Mitchell knocked down all of them, and the lead was down to one. After Bobby Maze sank his only two free throw attempts on the night, Mitchell’s next three – this one from beyond the top of the arc – bounced off the rim and gave the visitors the 59-54 win.
“Even though we didn’t play that well, our team came out and battled,” Mitchell said. “We had a lot of heart against the No. 14 team in the nation.”