Tennessee needs Williams, but on a night when Waters didn’t play and backup point guard Javonte Smart scored 29 points, it’s not so sure if LSU needs Waters.
LSU suffered the first big blow of the game after the news broke that stud point guard Waters wouldn’t be able to play due to an illness. It was now up to freshman Smart to replace Waters’ 15.7 points per game.
It didn’t get any better for the Bayou Bengals after the game started. Naz Reid was called for a flagrant one after he slung Grant Williams to the hardwood. Williams hit both free throws and the Vols led, 2-0.
The Tigers showed their dominance on the offensive glass as Bigby-Williams snagged a board and put it back with ease to tie the game at 2-2, but Admiral Schofield was able to respond with an offensive board and bucket of his own to put the Vols back up, 4-2.
A three-pointer from Schofield just a couple of possessions later put the Vols up 7-2 early in the game and Tennessee was off to a quick start.
It wasn’t enough to keep LSU off their backs, though. A Schofield foul led to a four-point play for Darius Days and he converted the opportunity to help cut Tennessee’s lead to 10-8.
The Vols were able to create some breathing room and get out to an 18-12 advantage, but consecutive three pointers by the Tigers tied the game back up with around 11:55 left to play in the first half.
LSU’s Skylar Mays then put Derrick Walker on skates en route to a couple of shots from the charity stripe and a chance at the lead. He missed one, but the Tigers still led, 19-18.
Both teams were shooting the low-40s when it came to overall percentage, but the difference - as it has been most of this year - was the difference in three-point shooting percentage. Tennessee was hitting around 33 percent (2 of 6) compared to LSU’s 50 pecent (3 of 6) at this point.
Tennessee was also struggling with turnovers. After averaging around 11.5 per game during SEC play, the Vols already had four in the first 10:00 of play.
Lamonte Turner came through with his first points of the game to tie it up at 20-20. Both teams went back forth for a bit, but Tennessee was finally able to get back out in front, thanks to a LSU scoring drought in which the Tigers didn’t score a point for 2:42 at one point and shot 1 of 7 from the field.
The lead was short-lived, however, as a three-pointer from Marshall Graves snapped the drought and gave LSU the 27-26 lead with 5:26 left in the first period. The drought’s finality brought forth a nice little run that saw a combined 5 of 8 shooting from the floor, but this time, the Vols led 32-31 after the back and forth.
But the scoring left as quick as it came for both teams. Tennessee would finish the first half with a 36-31 lead thanks to a 6-0 run, but didn’t make a single shot for the final 2:30. LSU was miserable, too. Will Wade’s squad missed its last five shots and didn’t score a single point for almost 3:30 minutes.
Despite the five point deficit, LSU had to feel pretty good considering they were down one of their best players and shot just 32 percent from the floor. After a hot start from three (3 of 6), the Tigers sat at 4 of 16 from long range at halftime. Smart led the way with nine points.
Tennessee shot 47 percent from the floor and Schofield led the team with 13 points. The Vols were also winning on the boards (22-16), which is exactly what they needed to do.
The first five minutes of the second half would be key in determining how the game would play out. It was the key to the loss in Lexington, where the Kentucky Wildcats opened with a 14-0 run.
LSU would also be at full strength after Reid had to sit for most of the first half due to foul trouble. His presence re-establishes the post for LSU, giving the Vols another factor to account for.
The Vols were able to extend the 6-0 run from the first half to an 11-1 run in the second half, building a 41-32 lead with 17:47 to play in the game. The Tigers’ lone point came from a free throw and it had nearly been seven minutes since the last made bucket.
But Bigby-Williams abruptly ended the famine with a major slam, followed by another dunk of his own to cut the lead to 41-36. The eruptions caused Rick Barnes to cause a timeout and Tennessee and had to take a moment to reset.
The reset worked to perfection as Bone drilled a three coming out of the timeout to put the Vols up, 44-36. It sparked yet another run between the two teams. This time, they combined for 8 of 8 shooting - 5 of 5 from LSU and 3 of 3 from UT - which included four straight three-pointers over a span of two minutes.
Tennessee still led, 49-44 with 13:04 to play, but that lead was far from safe. This game was going to come down to the wire, to no one’s surprise.
Another flagrant one was called, this time on the Tigers’ Days, but it didn’t matter outside of the demerit after Lamonte Turner missed both free throws. The situation became even worse for the Vols after Yves Pons turned it over on the ensuing possession, completely negating any advantage from the call.
It was a disturbing sequence that had not been seen from this team yet this season. The Vols looked like they were starting to shrink in the moment, but there was still plenty of time to prove otherwise.
Tennessee continued to keep the Tigers within two possessions until an Emmit Williams dunk off a missed Smart layup cut the lead to 53-51. Kyle Alexander immediately responded with his first points of the game, but two made free throws on the next Tiger possession kept the game within one score, 55-53.
Just when the Vols needed a play, they got one from their guy in Schofield. He drained a three from the corner to give the Vols a 58-53 lead with just over 8:00 left in the game.
The hot play from Schofield continued, as he hit another three to put the Vols up 61-53. It began to rub off on his teammates as Alexander then nailed one his own to give the Vols a 64-55 lead. It was their fifth consecutive made shot.
But just like most of the game, the Vols soon turned cold and LSU took advantage. Well, mainly Javonte Smart took advantage.
First, he hit a three-pointer to bring the Tigers within a four point deficit. Then, he was able to steal the ball from Grant Williams and hit a sick layup to cut the lead to 64-62 with 3:33 left to play in the game. The Tigers were now on a 7-0 run and the Vols looked to be in serious trouble.
Two made free throws from Williams gave the Vols some breathing room, but Smart continued to gash Tennessee’s defense. He sliced through all five players in orange, scoring his seventh straight point - his 21st of the night - in order to keep the Tigers within two.
A missed free throw from Williams on the next possession kept it a one-score game and another bucket from Smart made it a 67-66 game with 2:39 left to play.
It was simple: Tennessee couldn’t stop Smart.
Another foul on Williams brought upon not only a serious case of deja vu, but yet another opportunity for Tennessee to stretch the lead. This time, Williams hit both free throws and Tennessee led, 69-66.
Turner was finally able to control Smart on the next possession and give the Vols a chance to make a statement with 1:57 left to play.
The only problem was the fact that the Vols hadn’t scored in almost five minutes.
The inefficiency continued and LSU responded with a Mays three-pointer to tie the game, 69-69. Bone took an ill-advised jumper on the next possession and the ball bounced off Williams’ and into LSU’s hands. The home team now had a chance to break the tie and take the lead with just :58 seconds left.
That chance was given out by Schofield after he was called for a blocking foul on Mays. Tennessee now had three players - Schofield, Bowden, and Bone - with four fouls.
Mays hit both free throws to give the Tigers their first lead since around 3:30 left to play in the first half. The Vols now trailed, 71-69 with :45 left in the game.
Williams immediately drove through the lane and made the easy layup to tie the game back up. The fact that he scored quickly enough to guarantee the Vols would get one more possession was a big deal as well. The quick score left about a four second difference between the shot clock and the game clock.
Smart attempted to attack the basket from the elbow, but was denied by Kyle Alexander. The Vols couldn’t recover possession, but the defensive play left just four seconds on the shot clock. LSU would now have to hurry to try and get a shot off, leaving them susceptible for a turnover.
Mays tried to knock down the three, but it was way too strong and Schofield was able to grab the rebound and call timeout with 4.4 seconds left.
Jordan Bone completely lost footing as he crossed over half court and lost the ball, nuking any attempt at a win in regulation.
Could the Vols survive overtime with all of the foul trouble?
The Tigers took a quick 73-71 lead, but Lamonte Turner tied the game right back up with a jumper from the free throw line. Grant Williams put the Vols in jeopardy with a dumb charge, but LSU turned the ball over right after, negating the foul.
Schofield hit a layup to give the Vols a 75-73 lead, but another dumb foul - this time from Turner - gave Smart two free throws. He hit both to tie the game up at 75 with 1:39 to play in overtime.
Smart struck again, slicing his way to his 27th point of the game to give the Tigers a 77-75 lead, but Williams showed why he was the 2017 SEC Player of the Year on the next play. He was able to create separation off a sick spin move and made the bucket to tie the game at 77-77.
Naz Reid finally got on the board as he made one of two free throws, but Williams answered right back with that damn spin move. He was able to draw a foul and hit the free throw to give the Vols a 80-78 lead with :18 seconds left.
Alexander came through with another block on Smart, but LSU continued to pound the offensive glass and Bigby-Williams was able to tip it in and tie the game.
Turner attempted a three to win the game, but missed. Just as it looked like the game was heading into a second overtime, disaster struck.
Grant Williams was going for the loose ball, but ended up driving himself into Javonte Smart, creating the foul. Smart, an 85 percent free throw shooter, hit both free throws to break the tie and ultimately win the game for the Tigers, 82-80.
Tennessee (24-3, 12-2) is now tied for first place with both the Wildcats and the Tigers for first place in the SEC. The Vols travel to Oxford, Mississippi on Wednesday night to take on the Ole Miss Rebels. Tip-off is scheduled for 7PM EST.