Half of the formula for tonight's game was simple: physically outlast the Tigers for forty minutes. Surprisingly, the other half was even simpler than that: just give James Daniel III the damned ball.
Daniel III was key to Tennessee's sixth SEC win in seven games, leading the team with 17 points on 6/10 shooting, including 5/7 from downtown.
But before tonight's game even began, the momentum had already begun to swing in Tennessee's favor.
First off, the Florida Gators lost to the Georgia Bulldogs the previous night by a score of 72-60. If that wasn't sweet enough, the Vols' opponent - the LSU Tigers - suspended four players from participating in tonight's game.
And did I mention that UT was a (+10.5) favorite coming into the game as well?
Despite the good fortune, however, emotions were quickly tempered early on after the Vols found themselves down 4-2. What made this small deficit so painful though was the fact that they also just lost their best player, sophomore forward Grant Williams, to injury.
But as usual, the Vols showed their typical resiliency, going on a 14-2 run during Williams' absence. They hit 59% of their shots, including 40% from 3PT range, en route to a nine-point lead until Williams re-entered the game.
Once he returned it was lights out for the Vols.
Williams scored ten points in nine minutes of play to help get Tennessee out to an 11-point lead at halftime.
The Vols used beautiful ball movement and were great from beyond the arc again - shooting over 50% - in the first half, but they still had something to prove. Sure, last week's win at Iowa State was great because the Vols finally held a lead, but now it was time to do it in consecutive efforts.
It's time for this team to get consistent. If they can start to find ways to finish games strong, then the sky is the limit. But could the Vols put the Tigers away in the second half?
Seven turnovers in the first eight minutes of the second half saw the Vols lead reduced to just six points. Interestingly enough, it looked as if Tennessee did not learn from their success against Iowa State.
That changed quickly. All of a sudden, the Vols woke up and absolutely dominated LSU. Tennessee managed to go on a 12-2 run in almost four minutes while hitting 80% of their shots to get the game under control and the lead back to double digits.
The dominate performance was highlighted by a sequence that showed what the Vols can really do when hitting on all cylinders. Freshman forward Derrick Walker made a huge bucket off of an offensive rebound, which Daniel III followed up with a beautiful 3PT shot, but that was just the beginning. On LSU's ensuing possession, junior forward Kyle Alexander made a huge block then slammed one home on the opposite end off of a nice bounce pass. The sequence put Tennessee back up by 13 and the Vols pretty much rolled on from there.
Daniel III continued his stellar night and would finish off the Tigers by nailing three consecutive 3PT shots to put the Vols up by 18, en route to an 84-61 victory.
Up next is Ole Miss on Saturday, February, 3rd at 6:00pm.
Stats from the game:
- The Vols showed once again how deep they are as their bench outscored LSU's bench 44-8. This comes as no surprise, however, as LSU suspended two key bench players before tonight's game.
- Tennessee may have trouble with teams that have elite big men come tournament time. Forward Duop Reath continued to find ways to score while leading the Tigers with 21 points,
- Admiral Schofield led the team with eight rebounds, but fouled out with five minutes left to play. His physicality was key to the Vols excellent defensive performance.
- This was Daniel III's sixth game with at least three 3PT shots made. He has shot 54% from downtown during the six games.