Luckily for Tennessee, it wasn’t slated to play the early game in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville on Thursday. The Vols, playing in the tournament’s second game of the afternoon, were barely able to wake up and muster enough energy to outlast an undermanned LSU squad by a final of 59-49 and advance to Friday’s quarterfinals.
LSU deployed a zone defense to clog the lane and used the full shot clock on offense in an effort to shorten the game. It wasn’t exciting to watch, but it nearly worked. The Tigers led most of the first half and remained within striking distance until the very end.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Bruce Pearl admitted after the game. “We didn’t play well.”
“The zone bothered us. It slowed us down.”
Tennessee struggled to get going offensively against the zone, especially from the outside. The Vols finished just 4-23 (17%) from beyond the three-point arc.
“Heck, we looked like Kentucky out there launching those things,” Pearl joked.
But in the end, the Tigers just didn’t have enough offensive firepower to capitalize on the Vols’ lackluster performance.
While Tennessee guards struggled from the outside, Wayne Chism and Brian Williams went to work on the boards. The duo combined for 25 rebounds. Williams grabbed 14 and Chism hauled in 11.
Chism also led the team in scoring with 17 points. Bobby Maze added 14 and J.P. Prince finished with 11.
Bruce Pearl insists his team wasn’t looking past LSU.
“I prepared my basketball team for LSU,” Pearl said. “You have to understand, when there is a chance you are going to play Tasmin Mitchell in his last game — that guy is a competitor. And a team as well coached as Trent Johnson, you better prepare your team to play LSU.”
“I promise you we did,” Pearl added. “It may not have looked like it, but we did.”
Next up – Ole Miss Rebels
Tennessee’s next game will be on Friday afternoon against Mississippi. The Rebels are the two seed from the SEC Western Division and the Vols will need a much better effort to advance to Saturday’s semifinals.
“If we play like that tomorrow we won’t advance,” said Pearl. “We will get beat. We have to play better to beat Ole Miss.”
Pearl believes Ole Miss is playing as well as anyone in the conference right now.
“We beat them at home in overtime and it was all that we could do,” Pearl said. “I would say that our win against Ole Miss at home is absolutely right there with any of our wins including Kentucky and Kansas.”
“They have good depth and they are playing for their tournament lives,” Pearl continued. “They are supposedly a team that is probably one quality win from getting in. Given our ranking and RPI — not the way we played tonight — but given our ranking and RPI, we would be a quality win.”