In the midst of Josiah-Jordan James’ early-season absences, I was ready to write him off for the season.
Abstract terms like “discomfort,” and “soreness” were used to describe the injury, and then James even admitted that the situation was something that would need to be managed on a “game-to-game,” basis for the rest of the season. That was disconcerting, at the least.
He missed big, non-conference matchups against Maryland and Arizona, and I was sure he wasn’t gonna be the player we need him to be this season
Well, today against LSU, James was far and away the best player on the court, and once again, my unyielding cynicism made me look silly. James scored 22 points on an efficient 9-16 effort from the field that included four 3s, seven rebounds and three steals. His resurgence led the Vols to a 77-56 win at LSU.
Tennessee and the Tigers basically exchanged baskets the first two minutes, with an LSU 3 making it 7-6 Tigers with a little more than 18 minutes left in the game.
James gave the Vols the lead back with a jumper in the paint at the 16:13 mark, but then neither team scored for more than three minutes before a Zakai Ziegler layup made it 10-7 Vols with 13 to go in the half. That started a 7-0 run for Tennessee, with a Tobe Awaka Bucket and a Zielger 3 both coming off LSU turnovers. By this time, the Vols were off to a 15-7 lead with 11-ish minutes till halftime.
LSU’s offense went through a nine-minute drought that finally snapped with two Fts at the 10:47 mark. The game went from 15-9 to 16-13 over the next two-ish minutes thanks to LSU layups. Mashack hitting one FT was the one Vol point in that stretch.
A second-chance Santiago Vescovi 3 went down at the 7:50 mark, and then Phillips hit two FTs and then his second 3 of the game (on two attempts) to stretch the Vols’ lead back out to 24-15. That second Phillips’ three came off a Tiger turnover, and through 15-ish minutes, Tennessee scored nine points of seven LSU giveaways.
James hit a 3, Tennessee’s sixth of the half, dropped at the 4:39 mark, but LSU answered on its subsequent possession with its second 3 on 12 attempts to make the score 29-20 Vols.
Jonas Aidoo snagged an offensive board off a Vescovi missed 3, and the ball ended up going through the net off a Mashack jumper. Speaking of second-chance points, Key corralled a rebound off a James’ miss, dribbled it out of trouble, passed to a teammate and ended up wide open at the top of the… key… for another Vol triple. That 3 was a second-chance opportunity that also came via an LSU turnover. That’s the ideal recipe for a Vols’ possession, outside of just making the first shot in the first place.
Jonas Aidoo got on the board with just fewer than two minutes left in the half when he made two FTs after he grabbed an offensive rebound and got fouled going up for the follow-up shot.
With 1:20 left in the half, Key hit his third 3 of the half, which also came off a turnover. James hit a jumper with nine seconds left to cap off a Vols’ 12-2 run to finish off the half. The Vols led 39-22 at half, in large part thanks to: low turnovers (3), high forced turnovers (10), 15 points off those LSU TOs, and an 8-19 (50 percent) mark from deep. Every player who played in the first half scored at least once except for Olivier Nkamhoua. James led the Vols with 10 points on 4-8 (2-3 from deep) shooting.
On the first possession of the second half, Vescovi pushed the lead out to 20, 42-22, with his second 3 of the game.
LSU scored five-straight points following the Vescovi 3 — the the first off a layup and the second on an open 3-pointer.
Nkamhoua finally got on the board when Tennessee ran one of its lob plays, and Olivier got a dunk off an under-the-hoop, out-of-bounds play.
James took a steal the length of the court for a dunk at the 16:49 mark, making the score 46-27, but Nkamhoua fouled LSU’s Adam Miller on a shot near the hoop, which Miller made despite the hack. He hit the subsequent free throw, too. 46-30 Vols with 15:51 left in the game. That foul was Nkamhoua’s third, so Barnes immediately sent him to the bench. Tennessee’s foul trouble in the post is something to watch through the rest of the second half, as Uros Plavsic isn’t playing, and Phillips and Awaka have two fouls each.
At the 15:31 mark, Ziegler had his own 5-0 mini-run with a 3 and a layup – both came via LSU turnovers. James was next – he hit a 3 off a turnover to make it 54-30 and then made another jumper after an LSU bucket. At this point, UT had hit seven of its last eight shots, and James led all scorers with 18 points and four made 3s.
With 12:40 left, Ziegler made another layup, and then LSU turned it over, again, but Phillips missed the shot off the free possession and the Tigers were off and running on a fast break. But Ziegler stepped in to take a charge and cause the Tigers’ 16th turnover of the game.
Phillips scored his first points of the second half on two FTs with 11:38 left, but Tennessee gave up a bucket at the rim on the defensive end. Key made a jumper with the shot clock expiring to put the Vols up 63-36 with just under 11 minutes left in the contest.
Over the next 1.5 minutes, LSU scored six-straight points, but James broke the run with a layup that came via an offensive rebound from a Phillips miss.
At the under-eight media timeout, LSU had made four of its last five shots but still trailed 65-46. Key missed a 3 on the Vols’ final possession before the break, but James bailed him out by taking a charge that made for the Tigers’ 17th turnover.
With 5-ish minutes left, James scored his 22nd points of the game off LSU’s 18th turnover, and then Aidoo scored two-straight buckets, with the second coming off a Phillips steal.
By the 3:30 mark, the Vols led 75-50. Then, at the two-minute mark, the score was 75-53. The Vols added on two more before the finish and ended with a 77- 56 win.
- Zakai Ziegler notched his second double-double of the year with 12 points and 10 assists. He’s averaging 11-ish points and just more than seven assists so far in SE play. He only hit two of the eight 3s he attempted, but he made his layups today. Insert praying hands emoji here
- It was a disappointing game from Olivier Nkamhoua. Tennessee was without Uros Plavsic due to illness, and Nkamhoua battled foul trouble and scored just two points on four field goal attempts. He had three rebounds and was the worst player on the Vols in terms of +/ - at -10.
- Tyreke Key showed some life today – he’s the best charge-taker on this squad and finished with 10 points on 4-10 shooting (2-5 from 3) and tied for the team lead with seven rebounds, four of which came on the offensive glass. He also has zero turnovers
- Jonas Aidoo is gonna struggle against players who are broad and stocky, but still, today he tied for the team-lead with seven boards, with five coming on offense. He had eight points and a block, too, in 20 minutes
- Freshman Julian Philips started strong, with eight of his 10 total points coming in the first 20 minutes of the game. He played 23 minutes despite having four fouls for much of the second half
- Santi Vescovi, who’s in the NCAA’s top-20 for steals per-game, didn’t notch a steal for just the second time this year (the other occurrence was against Vandy). He had just six points on 2-7 from beyond the arc
- The Vols managed a double-digit win despite shooting 44.6 from the field and allowing the Tigers to hit nearly 48 percent of their shots
- Tennessee had 25 points off the bench, 30 points in the paint and 33 (!!!!) points of 19 LSU turnovers. The Volunteer offense put up a scorching 1.3 points per-possession, making baskets on 32 of their 60 possessions. With layups being such a bugaboo against UK, it was comforting to see the Vols hit 10 of their 13 layup attempts today against the Tigers