Vols struggle past LSU

Vols struggle past LSU

The 15th-ranked Tennessee Vols had to weather a Storm - literally and figuratively - before beating LSU 59-49 in their SEC Tournament opener Thursday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

Six-foot-7, 230-pound Storm Warren almost single-handedly kept the Tigers in the game for 25 minutes. When he went to the bench five minutes into the second half, however, Tennessee went to work.

After scoring 12 of LSU's first 30 points, Warren took a seat with three fouls and 15:06 remaining. When Tennessee scored the game's next six points, Warren was rushed back onto the floor after a three-minute rest. It was too late, though. The Vols kept their momentum long enough to complete a 16-4 spurt that turned a 30-all tie into a 46-34 lead with 6:19 to go.

Thanks to Bobby Maze and LSU's offensive ineptitude, the 12-point lead proved sufficient. Maze scored Tennessee's final 11 points - hitting 9 of 10 tries from the foul line - over the final 2:02.

Tennessee, now 24-7, will face Ole Miss Friday at 2:15 Central in quarterfinal play. LSU finishes 11-20.

The game was much closer than it should've been, mostly because the Vols were just as putrid offensively as the Tigers. The Big Orange shot a chilly 37.3 percent from the field, including an icy 17.4 percent (4 of 23) from beyond the 3-point arc. LSU made 36.4 from the field and 18.8 (3 of 16) from 3.

Tennessee's inside play was exceptional. Wayne Chism sank 6 of 10 shots en route to 17 points and 11 rebounds. Brian Williams was 3 of 6 on his way to 7 points and a season-high 14 rebounds as UT won the backboard battle 43-36. Forward J.P. Prince hit 5 of 8 shots and added 11 points.

The Vols' interior play had to carry the day because their perimeter attack was a no-show. Scotty Hopson went 0 of 8 from the floor and 0-4 from 3. Although he finished with 14 points due to the late free throws, Maze was just 2 of 9 and 1 of 6. Cameron Tatum was 2 of 6 and 1 of 5, Melvin Goins 1 and 2 and 0 of 0. Counting Skylar McBee's two misfires from 3, Tennessee's backcourt brigade was a combined 5 of 27 from the field (18.5 percent) and 2 of 17 from beyond the arc (11.7 percent.) against LSU's 2-3 zone.

"We didn't play well," head coach Bruce Pearl conceded. "The zone bothered us and slowed us down.... Zone takes away the best thing we do offensively, and that's transition."

Whereas Tennessee's offense was awful, its defense was awesome. The Vols shut down Bo Spencer, who hung 25 points on them in the regular-season meeting at Baton Rouge. Spencer made just 1 of 10 shots this time, including 1 of 8 from 3, en route to a 5-point outing. Tasmin Mitchell, needing just 21 points to reach the 2,000 level for his career, managed but 10 points.

"Defensively, we were good," Pearl said. "You've got to stop Tasmin Mitchell, you've got to stop Bo Spencer. We did. Mission accomplished."

While Tennessee was putting the clamps on Spencer and Mitchell, Warren was producing a game-high 18 points. He couldn't beat the Vols by himself, however.

Statistically, Tennessee won the game at the foul line. The Big Orange hit 17 of 24 from the stripe, whereas LSU was 6 of 12.

"We got the ball inside just enough," Pearl explained.

Just enough to get Storm Warren in second-half foul trouble. Just enough to put Warren on the bench for three crucial minutes. And, ultimately, just enough to survive and advance.

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