This Wednesday, the Tennessee Volunteers (15-14, 7-9 SEC) travel to Baton Rouge to take on the LSU Tigers (9-19, 1-15 SEC) for the first time this season. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on the SEC Network.
The Volunteers enter this game with two straight losses. The first loss in the past week came from the hands of a hot Vanderbilt team who has beaten Tennessee at home the past three seasons. The Commodores led from the opening tip and did not look back, and had five players that registered double-digit points in the 67-56 win. The Vols could not get the ball rolling on offense and were held to their lowest point total of the year while shooting 29 percent from the field.
Tennessee then traveled to Columbia to take on South Carolina in a game detrimental to its NCAA Tournament hopes. The Volunteers once again got off to a slow start on offense, as the only player to register double-digit points was senior guard Robert Hubbs III with 16. The rest of his teammates scored just 38 points in the 82-55 beatdown from the Gamecocks.
This loss is the second game in a row in which Tennessee has registered its lowest point total all season. The only other Vol to average more than 10 points per game on the season is freshman Grant Williams, who was relatively quiet in the two losses and tallied just 19 points.
For Tennessee, a win against the Tigers would make 16 total wins this season, exceeding last season’s total of 15. It would also mark six straight wins over LSU for the Volunteers in Baton Rouge.
The LSU Tigers are coming into the contest on a 15-game losing streak, the most losses for a Tigers team in a season since 1966, and are fresh off of a heartbreaking loss to Georgia. LSU trailed by 17 in the first half and 13 in the second half but still managed to take an 80-77 lead in the final minutes. However, the Bulldogs managed to storm back and take the lead. J.J. Frazier hit a pair of free throws to seal the game and serve the Tigers a loss, 82-80. Although LSU lost, it is arguably the best game the Tigers have played all year.
The Tigers were led in scoring by sophomore guard Antonio Blakeney, who tallied 20 points in the loss, and also got help from guards Skylar Mays and Brandon Sampson, who each had 15 points on the night.
Blakeney comes into the game against Tennessee as the fifth-leading scorer in the SEC, averaging nearly 18 points per game, and he has had over 20 points in six straight games for the Tigers. “I think about this time last year is where he’s shown his ability to score. He’s been more aggressive on the offensive end and taken more of a leadership in that part of his game. I think we’ve seen that each game,” LSU head coach Johnny Jones said about Blakeney.
Blakeney is one of only five players in the SEC averaging 33 minutes per game. The Tigers also have three other players that average double-digit points a game including Sampson and junior forward Duop Reath.
LSU has been able to score consistently and efficiently this season, averaging just under 75 points per game. “We go in there fully understanding that they are a talented team and can score points. We have to guard and we have to hope that we’ll be better offensively” said Volunteers head coach Rick Barnes.
LSU enters the game off of a close loss to a solid Georgia team, but the Tigers continue to throw up huge numbers offensively, and have recently had a high level of consistent play from Blakeney. Tennessee will struggle offensively for the third game in a row, but will eventually gain its footing going into halftime against a weak Tigers defense. Overall, the help that Blakeney gets from his teammates will lift them over the Volunteers in a close 77-72 win, and LSU will get their second SEC win of the season.
Edited by Robert Hughes
Featured image by Brad Blackwelder