JaJuan saves the day

Slowed by the flu, JaJuan Smith had a 101-degree fever at the start of Saturday's Tennessee-LSU basketball game. He was coolly efficient at the end of it, however.

Benched most of the second half because of his illness, Smith rejoined the Vol lineup with 20 seconds left for his defensive skills. He promptly stole the ball and hit a driving layup – his only basket of the game – to give Tennessee a heart-stopping 47-45 victory at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.

The Vols still had 11.7 seconds and some anxious moments, however. Chris Johnson rebounded a missed desperation shot by LSU teammate Alex Farrer, but Johnson's potential game-tying follow dunk was ruled to have occurred just after the final horn.

The triumph gives the seventh-ranked Vols a 21-2 overall record and an 8-1 SEC mark. LSU, playing its first game under Butch Pierre following the Friday firing of head coach John Brady, slips to 8-14 overall and 1-7 in league play.

The 47 points represented the second-worst single-game total of Bruce Pearl's three-year stint as Tennessee's head man. The low point was a 56-44 loss to Butler in November of 2006.

"Our offensive execution was as bad as it's been in three years," Pearl said on his post-game show. "We got no fast-break baskets and no continuity baskets. We got standing around.... You win games out of your fast break and your continuity, and we were getting absolutely nothing out of continuity."

The coach was understandably pleased with a Vol defense that forced 22 LSU turnovers while limiting the Tigers to 40 percent shooting (20 of 50) from the field and 15 percent (3 of 20) from beyond the arc. There was a caveat, however.

"When you exert so much energy on the defensive end, we're resting on offense," Pearl grumbled. "We're not cutting, we're not screening, we're not moving.... And I'm very disappointed with our bench. Our bench was afraid to fail tonight."

The head man also was upset with the play of point guards Ramar Smith and Jordan Howell. Their inability to get the offense flowing resulted in just 31.7-percent shooting and a mere 6 Tennessee assists, compared to 15 turnovers.

"Our point-guard play was as poor as we've played at that position all year long," Pearl said.

Although he conceded he was "not real happy" with the performance, the Vol coach praised JaJuan Smith for fighting through his illness and playing "heroically" throughout the afternoon.

Tennessee outscored LSU 10-1 to open the second half of Saturday's game, boosting a 27-24 intermission lead to 37-25 with 15:55 to play. Horrendous foul shooting by the Vols enabled the Tigers to claw their way back into the game, however. Tennessee was 0 for 5 from the line in the second half and 4 of 15 for the game.

J.P. Prince and Wayne Chism missed two free throws each during a 7-0 LSU spurt that narrowed the gap to 37-32. Chris Lofton, who led Tennessee with 15 points, broke the drought with a layup. Tyler Smith, who chipped in 12 Vol points, nailed a 3-pointer that provided a seemingly safe 42-32 bulge.

In fact, the lead was anything but safe. Chris Johnson, who led LSU with 17 points, scored on consecutive putbacks to spark an 8-0 LSU rally that narrowed the gap to 42-40 with 3:57 remaining. Lofton stopped the charge with a 3 but Prince missed the front end of a one-and-one, and a three-point play by Johnson on yet another putback tied the score at 45-45 with 1:15 to go.

Lofton missed an open 3 with 49 seconds to play. LSU's Anthony Randolph missed the front end of a one-and-one but Tennessee could not corral the rebound, giving the Tigers possession with 20.2 seconds left.

That's when Smith, who was 0 for 7 from the field with four air balls to that point, re-entered the lineup. He deftly flicked the ball away from LSU's Marcus Thornton, then drove for what proved to be the game-winning bucket.

Except for Lofton, Tennessee's guards couldn't find the basket with a search warrant. JaJuan Smith (1 for 8), Jordan Howell (0 for 5) and Ramar Smith (0 for 3) combined to sink just 1 of 16 shots from the field.

Pearl made absolutely no attempt to disguise the frustration he felt with his team, which hosts Arkansas Wednesday night at 8.

"It's great to get out of here with a W ... it's great to be 21-2," he said following the win at Baton Rouge. "But if I'm Arkansas and I'm watching that game, holy cow, am I excited about playing us on Wednesday night!"

Inside Tennessee Top Stories