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Tennessee entered its game against LSU riding a four-game losing streak to the Tigers, but looking to extend its home winning streak to 10 games. On Saturday night, they accomplished both, taming the Tigers 64-50 with a strong defensive effort, along with Santiago Vescovi.
The Vols (13-5, 4-3) came out of the gates on fire, taking a 11-0 lead into the first television break. Santiago Vescovi led his team with 12 points in the first half, connecting on four 3-pointers, while the Vols hit seven total shots behind the perimeter in 20 minutes. Tennessee only connected on 4 shots inside the arc during the first half, while causing problems for the Tigers on defense. Barnes seemed to be pleased with the shot selection from behind the arc.
“I don’t know if we took a bad three tonight. We have to take them on our terms and what fits the scouting report.”
“I believe at some point in time we’re going to consistently do that,” Barnes added.
Rick Barnes started Uros Plavsic again for John Fulkerson, which paid off with his physical presence in the paint. The Tigers were without Xavier Pinson for another game, as he continues to recover from an ankle injury. Darius Days was in the starting lineup, but exited the game for a bit late in the first half, due to re-aggravating his ankle injury.
But tonight, the physicality from the Vols carried them to the win, especially on defense. Again, this squad forced their opponent to take bad shots, along with being out-hustled in the paint. Vescovi finished the first half with 12 points, while his team forced 14 turnovers, causing multiple problems for the Will Wade led squad.
The enforcer on this Tennessee basketball team continues to be Uros Plavsic, who has brought a different level of ferocity to this team since entering the starting lineup. He was a part of multiple scrums tonight underneath the basket, while jarring with the entire LSU roster as both teams headed into the tunnel at halftime.
Both teams got into a pregame scuffle, jawing back and forth, having to separated by the assistant coaches. But after the game, Uros Plavsic didn’t feel like giving out any details, only saying that the Vols wanted to win the game, not the fight.
“Don’t worry about that. They wanted to win the fight. We wanted to win the basketball game. We did what we needed to win that. I think we won both, really.”
The pregame scuffle reminded Santiago Vescovi of the first matchup in Baton Rouge, mentioning that it set the tone for the evening and the Vols took advantage of the physicality.
Even when the Vols went with three guards, their ability to attack the physical LSU defense never wavered. Over the course of 40 minutes, the Vols continued to find way to attack the paint, along with finding space towards the basket. The continued effort to battle on the boards stood out to Barnes tonight as well, especially against a big team like LSU.
“I thought we went as hard as we have on the glass. They’re as good as it gets on the offensive boards. We battled down there.”
The Tigers opened up the second half with a three minute scoring drought, after only being down 29-24 at halftime. During this time, the Vols took over, using multiple runs to separate themselves from the Tigers. After battling through a few rough performances over the last month, this Rick Barnes led squad seems to have found a way to cause problems for teams both inside and outside the paint. Overall, this is the type of team we watched play before the conference slate began.
LSU scored a season-low 50 points tonight, with them averaging 75 points per game coming into this matchup on Saturday night. Will Wade mentioned that this was the worse game they’ve played this season.
“Disappointing day, we just couldn’t get anything going offensively. I thought this was as poor as we’ve played. We looked tired, looked slow, we weren’t at our best. So I thought this was as poorly as we’ve played all season. But give Tennessee credit, they played hard made things difficult on us, they hit some three’s, tough night for us.”
Holding the Tigers to 21% from behind the arc was key for the Vols to separate themselves tonight, especially with how physical this game was in the paint. Even with Vescovi scoring all of his points from behind the perimeter, the Tennessee offense still found ways to find points around the basket. John Fulkerson finished with 8 points, Kennedy Chandler had 9 and Josiah-Jordan James finished with 9 points, along with 5 rebounds.
Also, John Fulkerson became the newest member to the 1,000 Point Club for Tennessee basketball.
Tonight proved that this gritty basketball team can continue finding different ways to beat teams, if they play this kind of defense. The Tigers had three players with 10 points or more tonight, but still couldn’t find enough offense to make it interesting in the final five minutes, even after cutting it to single digits. Tennessee finished the game on a 13-5 run, thanks to free-throw shooting and points in the paint.
Rick Barnes was asked about toeing that line of aggression and playing out of control against a team like LSU.
“You have to walk up to that line. You can’t let them get to you.”
For all the chatter about how this team would respond when Rick Barnes decided to change up the starting lineup, they’ve responded with two wins, after the embarrassing loss to Kentucky. So, maybe Barnes has found a starting five that can keep them in the race for a top-four seed in the SEC Tournament, but only time will tell.
After losing six of their last seven games against LSU and entering tonight losing four in a row, the Vols finally took care of the Tigers and can move on to a big game against Florida on Wednesday night. It might’ve looked a bit ugly at times, but this is what we can expect from the Vols this season moving forward. Now, with Santiago Vescovi stepping up and leading the charge, maybe this group has found another leader within this team full of veterans that can be the one who leads them through conference play.
“Santi has brought it every night. He plays like he’s 6-foot-7. That’s the one guy that we know will bring it every night,” Barnes said about Vescovi.
Tennessee is still learning how to play together, but performances like this should give the fan-base some hope that they’re finally figuring it out.