Vols belt LSU, 77-55

C.J. Watson nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to ignite a 15-0 finishing kick as Tennessee pulled away and beat Louisiana State 77-55 Saturday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Vols led by 16 points (40-24) in the first half but the Tigers closed to 62-55 on a Brandon Bass follow with 5:51 to play. That's when Watson hit twice from beyond the arc, boosting the lead to 68-55.

Major Wingate sank two free throws and Andre Patterson scored on a putback. Former walk-on JaJuan Smith drained a 3, and it was 75-55 with 2:11 remaining. Wingate scored inside with 11 seconds left to secure the final margin.

Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson went with a defense-oriented lineup, and it worked. He started 6-10 center Major Wingate, along with four guards -- Watson, Chris Lofton, Stanley Asumnu and Dane Bradshaw. Scooter McFagdon, UT's strongest scorer but weakest defender, was benched after showing up late for a pre-game meal. Starting in his place, Asumnu provided some defensive quickness that helped neutralize LSU's superior inside game.

The emphasis on defense worked as UT limited the taller Tigers to just 38 percent shooting. LSU guards Darrell Mitchell (1 of 8) and Tack Minor (2 of 12) combined to sink just 3 of 20 shots from the field.

The undersized Vols also battled hard on the boards, losing the rebounding battle by a mere 38-35 margin. Tennessee executed well on offense, shooting a solid 48 percent and committing just seven turnovers.

Watson finished with 18 points to pace Tennessee, now 11-11 overall and 4-5 in SEC play. Andre Patterson came off the bench to record a double-double -- 13 points and 12 rebounds. Glenn Davis, 6-9, 310-pound center, scored 17 points before fouling out with 4:32 remaining, to pace LSU, now 12-7 overall and 5-3 in league play.

Normally a liability on offense, Asumnu scored three consecutive baskets -- a reverse layup, a tip-in and a six-foot jumper -- helping Tennessee build a 25-15 lead with 8:45 to go in the first half. Patterson hit a dunk and a putback, then McFadgon scored on a 3 and a transition dunk to highlight a 9-1 run that widened the gap to 40-24 with 1:57 left to intermission.

LSU scored the final nine points of the first half, however, narrowing the margin to 40-33 by the break. The Tigers kept chipping at the lead in the second half, however, whittling the deficit to seven before Watson's back-to-back treys sparked UT's big finish.

The Vols host Alabama Wednesday at 8, then host Florida next Saturday.

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