Vols hoops season ends vs LSU

Tennessee's Cinderella run in the Southeastern Conference tournament ended Friday.

NASHVILLE — Playing for the third time in three days on Friday, Tennessee ran out of magic and fumes.

The 12th-seeded Vols’ unlikely run in the SEC Tournament was stopped by No. 4 seed LSU, 84-75, ending Tennessee’s two-game winning streak and season.

 Rick Barnes’ team didn’t want to go quietly, and they made sure LSU earned every bit of its quarterfinal victory. Tennessee (15-19) took a one-point halftime lead with LSU freshman sensation Ben Simmons sitting on the bench for 35 minutes with two fouls, but a 10-0 run by LSU late in the second half sealed the Vols’ fate.

“We knew, and as time goes on, we’re a team that I do think these guys have played really, really hard all year, but we get in the games against certain teams, we’ve got to be on,” coach Rick Barnes said. “We don’t have a very big margin of error. We’ve got to hope the officials are on and they have a great day, and if either of those two things aren’t falling into place, we struggle at times.”

 Just two days after routing Auburn and 24 hours after squeaking by Vanderbilt to advance, Tennessee’s fatigue in the second half finally set in. The Vols committed 14 turnovers and looked to lose steam down the stretch after playing three games in 72 hours.

Robert Hubbs and Detrick Mostella led the scorers with 19 points, while Armani Moore finished his career at Tennessee with six points, six rebounds and eight assists.

“I don’t necessarily think it was (fatigue),” Moore said. “I just think it was, like coach said, we had a lot of crucial turnovers, a couple times where we didn’t execute on offense. We were kind of lackadaisical on defense as well.”

 After hanging with a Simmons-less LSU team for the first half, Tennessee struggled to stop its offense with Simmons in the lineup after the break. The Tigers opened the second half on a 9-2 run and shot 57 percent in the second half — including 11 from the freshman. Simmons finished with 15, while LSU was paced with 22 points from Antonio Blakeney. 

“I think, as much as anything, it’s hard at the end of the year to ask a guy like Armani Moore to just try to lock in,” Barnes said. “And, again, we know he’s been better when he’s played at the step out four position. We were trying to get Shembari (Phillips) there, but he’s really struggled for the last four games.” 

Phillips played just 11 minutes and notched two points and two rebounds in the loss.

The SEC Tournament gave Tennessee an opportunity to end the season on a high note after losing four consecutive games coming in. It also allowed the freshmen an opportunity to gain valuable game repetitions and send the seniors out with two wins.

“Teams that were playing for an NCAA or playing for postseason, and we were just trying to keep our guys, challenging them with, hey, we’ve just go to stay in it and who knows what might happen,” Barnes said.

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“I think it speaks a lot about (our team’s) character and the fact that we’ve told them they’re going to look back one day, these seniors, and even though they look at this record, it’s not something we wanted, but they’ll look back and know that they were a part of really trying to build what we’re going to do going forward.”

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