The win, the Vols’ fifth in a row at Maravich Assembly Center, snapped a five-game losing streak and rekindled their flickering hopes of earning an NIT bid. Tennessee now stands 15-14 overall and 7-10 in SEC play. LSU slips to 21-9 and 10-7 after seeing its NCAA Tournament hopes take a hit.
In the earlier meeting Feb. 14 at Thompson-Boling Arena LSU raced to a 47-20 halftime lead and coasted to a 73-55 romp. Both teams looked completely different in the rematch, however. Tennessee played with incredible energy, while the Tigers seemed listless and frustrated by the Vols’ 1-3-1 zone.
“We competed tonight for 40 minutes against a team that in my mind is a top-25 type team and an NCAA Tournament team,” Vol head man Donnie Tyndall said on the post-game show. “After the way we played at our place against them it was nice to see us respond the way we did.”
During its five-game losing streak Tennessee appeared to be a tired and timid team. Tyndall took steps to fix this by putting his team through rigorous practices Monday and Tuesday that were short but physical.
“We didn’t practice (during the five-game losing streak) the way I usually do,” he said. “The last two days I went back to old-school practices. Now they were only about an hour long but they were physical, they were intense and they were the way we usually do things. I thought we got those practices to the game floor tonight.”
Josh Richardson and Armani Moore provided a potent 1-2 punch for the Vols. Richardson hit 9 of 15 field-goal tries and finished with 20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 assists and just 1 turnover in 35 minutes at the point. Moore made nine of 14 field-goal tries en route to contributing 19 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.
Robert Hubbs was 2 for 2 from 3-point range and contributed 12 points. Kevin Punter added 10. Derek Reese scored just 4 points but reeled in a game-high nine rebounds. Six-foot-10 freshman Tariq Owens recorded just 6 points and 3 rebounds in a rare start but played good defense and gave perhaps his best overall performance as a Vol.
Keith Hornsby hit 5 of 9 shots from behind the arc and registered 25 points for LSU. Six-foot-10 Jarell Martin added 16 points and Tim Quarterman 10. Six-foot-8 Jordan Mickey, who burned the Vols for 20 points, 11 rebounds and 7 blocks in the earlier meeting at Knoxville, managed just 9 points, 8 rebounds and 1 block in the rematch.
Tied 33-all at the break, Tennessee shot a sizzling 69.2 percent (18 of 26) in the second half to turn the game into a cake walk. Leading just 45-42 six minutes into the second half, the Vols made a 17-2 explosion that turned the momentum their way for good.
Devon Baulkman opened the rally with a 3 from the left corner, then Moore scored on a driving left-handed five-footer. Richardson tacked on a driving bucket as the lead swelled to 52-42. After a 12-footer by LSU’s Hornsby, Tennessee got a 3 from the left corner by Hubbs, a steal and drive by Richardson, then a 3 from the right corner by Punter that widened the gap to 18 points (62-44) with 8:30 remaining.
A 3-pointer by Quarterman whittled the deficit to 11 points (70-59) with 3:56 to play but Hubbs hit a pair of free throws and Punter scored on a drive to push the lead to 74-59 and kill the rally.
Tennessee wound up shooting 52.4 percent from the field, 38.1 percent (8 of 21) from 3 and 57.1 percent (4 of 7) from the foul line. LSU managed just 40.4 percent from the field, 33.3 percent (7 of 21) from 3 and 75.0 percent (18 of 24) from the free-throw line. Incredibly, the Vols outrebounded the towering Tigers 35-29, outscored them 36-20 on points in the paint and attempted 63 shots to LSU’s 47. Tyndall thought there were two reasons for his team’s surprising showing on the inside.
“Our defense did a good job of being quick to the double-team and making those big guys (Martin and Mickey) kick it out,” the coach said. “When you do that you’re going to give up some open shots. Fortunately, tonight they didn’t shoot it as well as they did at our place.
“The second thing is, we don’t throw it to the post and get any cheap buckets. Our paint points come off dribble-drives, and I thought our guys were relentless tonight in driving the ball and not settling for jump shots. Robert (Hubbs) was more aggressive off the bounce. KP (Punter) was more aggressive. Devon Baulkman had two or three nice drives to the goal and Josh (Richardson) did his usual thing, so it was good to see us driving the ball like we did.”
The Vols, now 5-4 in SEC road games, carry a 2-6 SEC home record into Saturday’s regular-season finale against visiting South Carolina. That game is scheduled for a 4 o’clock tipoff at Thompson-Boling Arena.