That line was the story of last nights LSU/Tennessee basketball game. It applied to both teams. LSU jumped out to an early 15 point lead and held that margin for most of the game; making us almost forget the embarrassing 24-point loss at Oxford last Saturday, and losing any chance of making the NCAA tournament. The Tigers looked like they were going to roll over Tennessee, and even better Alabama was losing at home to Auburn (a Tennessee and Alabama loss would have had all three teams with seven conference losses heading into the last weekend).
Instead it was Tennessee who ran with the above title, rallying back from a double-digit second half deficit and won the game in overtime 74-69. The Vols were able to make the comeback thanks to shooting 66-percent from the field in the second half and a guy named Jarnell Strokes. Strokes, who graduated from high school in December and didn’t play his first game with the Vols until January 14, has slowly developed into a inside presence that SEC teams will have to fear this year and next. He finished the game with 18 points and seven rebounds on nine of 10 shooting. Tennessee was also aided by 14 points and five rebounds from both Jeronne Maymon and Trae Golden.
The difference in victory is clear to see when looking at the states. First of which was rebounding. In the first half LSU out-rebounded the Vols by 10, but at the end of the game they Tigers only held a 32-29 advantage. The advantage LSU had early in the game in rebounding aided them in scoring with eight second chance points in the first half; they had none in the second half. The second was a stat that has plagued LSU for most of the season, free throw shooting. Tennessee finished the game shooting 19 of 22 from the charity strike, while LSU finished 16 of 28. The Tigers started the game out well shooting eight of 10 in the first half, but the difference was the clutch shooting from the Vols. Tennessee shot seven for seven in overtime and that was the difference in the victory.
The Tigers played well and deserved to win the game, but they wore down in the second half and could never recover. LSU shot over 50-percent in the first half, but only 34-percent in the second. I already documented the rebounding and shooting advantages for Tennessee in the second half. LSU just didn’t have the depth to close out the game. Justin Hamilton was the leading scorer for LSU with 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Hamilton made a last second shot to close out the first half, and played shut down defense of Tennessee’s Jeronne Maymon in the Vols final possession in the second half, forcing overtime. Johnny O’Bryant finished the game with 11 points and four rebounds and Anthony Hickey put up 12 points with three rebounds and three assist.
Wednesday night at the PMAC was also senior night. Trent Johnson honored seniors Chris Bass, Storm Warren and Malcolm White by allowing them to start the game. Both Warren and White played with a ton of energy and passion. Warren finished the game with eight points and eight rebounds, and White finished with seven points. Chris Bass did what he normally does, play okay defense, turn the ball over and zero threat of shooting the ball. Nothing against these three, but did we actually believe that LSU was going to win its final home game and continue the hope of LSU making it to the NCAA tournament. Isn’t that as fair as Jordan Jefferson or possible Jarrett Lee going down as national champion winning quarterbacks; it just would not have been right, and possible could have cause some kind of solar explosion.
Not even the gold jerseys could help LSU. The loss drops LSU to 17-12 overall and 7-8 in the SEC. Next up for LSU is traveling to Auburn to close out the regular season. A LSU win and they will finish the season with a .500 record in conference play, and before you say “so what” keep in mind how bad this group was the last two years.