After watching the Vols sleepwalk their way to a 47-20 halftime deficit, Tyndall tore into his team in the locker room with the same ferocity that LSU had exhibited on the playing floor.
“He was pissed at halftime,” senior captain Josh Richardson said. “He told us how bad we were playing but that we had a lot of time to turn it around.”
Asked what he said during the break, Tyndall shrugged.
“There was nothing I could say,” he grumbled. “It was embarrassing. It was absolutely humiliating. They (players) should’ve been the same way. What I won’t tolerate is when things don’t go your way to put your heads down and feel sorry for yourselves. I thought that was the first time we’ve done that all year.”
The coach’s mood hadn’t changed much when he met the media after the massacre.
“That’s the worst half of any team I’ve ever coached, in 10 years,” Tyndall said. “I can’t explain it. We missed about 10 layups. We played hesitant, played nervous, played scared.”
That was a credit to 6-foot-8, 225-pound LSU forward Jordan Mickey, who blocked four shots in the opening minutes. The Vols seemed to be tentative thereafter, playing as if they expected every inside shot to be blocked.
“When you’ve got a big (Mickey) guarding a small the small’s got to be able to drive it and make the right decision to finish the play or draw a foul, and we didn’t do that,” Tyndall said. “The couple of times we did drive it they came over and blocked shots, which is what they do. Then we started double-pumping, playing off-balance and looking for the shot-blocker rather than just exploding to the rim and trying to finish.”
Mickey, who played 39 of the game’s 40 minutes, finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 7 blocks. Basically, he looked like a first-round NBA Draft pick. Still, the Vols could have challenged him with more regularity and more aggressiveness. Instead, they seemed uncharacteristically lethargic.
“That falls on my shoulders,” Tyndall said. “I obviously did a bad job of preparing our team.”
With some help from the home team, LSU played a near-perfect first half. The Tigers shot 64.0 percent (16 of 25) from the field and 70 percent (7 of 10) from 3-point range. They won the backboards 19-10 and limited Tennessee to 30.8 percent (8 of 26) from the field and 25 percent (1 of 4) from 3.
“They’ve been a tad bit up and down, some people might say, but we certainly caught them on one of their better nights,” Tyndall said. “I thought they played fantastic.”
When a team leads 47-20 at halftime, staying focused is a major challenge. Sure enough, LSU came out flat to start the second half, allowing Tennessee to grab the momentum. After LSU’s Jarell Martin opened the half with a free throw, the Vols scored the game’s next 13 points.
Richardson opened the rally with a free throw. Armani Moore scored a three-point play, then assisted Derek Reese for a layup. Back-to-back-to-back steals produced a driving dunk by Richardson, a 3-pointer by Robert Hubbs and a layup by Moore. Suddenly, Tennessee’s 13-0 run had trimmed a 28-point deficit to 48-33.
Asked what happened to the Vols during their frantic rally, Richardson replied: “We were actually playing basketball like we know how to play. We were playing our pressure defense and turning ‘em over. We got some fast-break points. The first half we just weren’t bringing it.”
The crowd went wild during the 13-0 spurt but the Vols’ porous interior defense caved in at this point. LSU made three consecutive layups, bumping the lead to 54-35, and Tennessee never seriously threatened again.
LSU, now 18-7 overall and 7-5 in SEC play, dominated virtually every phase of play. When Mickey wasn’t burying Tennessee on the inside, guards Keith Hornsby (4 of 9 from 3, 16 points) and Tim Quarterman (3 of 4 from 3, 13 points) were killing the Vols from the outside.
“We had to pick our poison,” Tyndall noted. “Hornsby had a nice game. I thought Quarterman played really well and, obviously, Mickey played fantastic.”
Moore produced 16 points and 8 rebounds for Tennessee, which slips to 14-10 overall and 6-6 in league play. Richardson added 15 points and Reese 11 off the bench. Freshman Willie Carmichael was noteworthy in that he fouled out in just 10 minutes of court time.
The obvious question: Can the Vols bounce back from Saturday’s shellacking? Not likely. Next up is a Tuesday night visit from top-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky.
“I told our team that if we practice the right way and prepare the right way, we’ll have a chance to be competitive in that game,” Tyndall said. “But if we play like we did the first half against Kentucky, they’ll beat us 100.”
Richardson was inclined to agree.
“We can’t dwell on this, especially with a team like Kentucky coming in,” he said. “If you’re dwelling on today it’s going to get real ugly real fast.”