No. 9 Tennessee responded well to its first Southeastern Conference loss while the losses keep mounting for LSU.
The Volunteers will try to stay near the leaders and the Tigers will try to end a five-game losing streak when these teams meet Saturday in Baton Rouge, La.
Tennessee (15-3, 5-1 SEC) bounced back from a loss to visiting Kentucky to win at Mississippi State 70-59 despite the absence of two starters Tuesday night.
“I would say it’s a great team character win,” Vols head coach Rick Barnes said. “The fact that we had two starters out and going with a lineup I probably never practiced together.”
Guards Santiago Vescovi (shoulder) and Tyreke Key (illness) missed the game against the Bulldogs, but both have a chance to return against LSU.
In their absence Zakai Zeigler and Julian Phillips led a strong second-half after a slow start.
Zeigler made his first start since November and scored a career-high 24 points — 16 in the second half — and added six rebounds and four assists while playing all 40 minutes.
“After the first eight minutes Zakai really settled in and got aggressive,” Barnes said.
Tennessee made just five of its first 20 field-goal attempts and trailed 19-10. But the Vols finished the half on a 13-4 run to pull even at 23 at halftime.
“The way we ended the first half was huge that we were able to tie the game back up,” Barnes said.
Tennessee trailed by two with nearly 10 minutes remaining in the game, but finished strong in the second half just like the first.
“We started making some shots in the second half,” Barnes said.
The Tigers (12-6, 1-5) haven’t won since defeating Arkansas 60-57 in their SEC opener on Dec. 28. Their offense was particularly troublesome in a 67-49 home loss to No. 16 Auburn on Wednesday night.
LSU shot a season-low 29.3 percent (17 of 58), its fourth straight game shooting below 35 percent, and missed 16 of their 20 attempts from behind the arc.
The Tigers trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half and were behind 32-21 at halftime. They pulled within two points with 15:05 left, but then they had two turnovers and missed a 3-pointer as Auburn’s lead reached nine before expanding to 19.
“All that work to start the half was down the drain and with our lack of ability to score and going back down with double figures was just too much for us to overcome,” LSU coach Matt McMahon said.
LSU turned the ball over 11 times, leading to 15 Auburn points, and 10 Auburn turnovers led to just two LSU points.
The Tigers made just 1 of 16 shots in the final 8 1/2 minutes and missed their final 11 attempts.
“We got back to some of our offensive struggles to put the ball in the basket,” McMahon said.
KJ Williams, who leads LSU with 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, was the only starter in double figures with 16 points against Auburn. Trae Hannibal added 16 off the bench.
–Field Level Media