On Tuesday night, LSU dropped their road game against Tennessee. Although they managed to keep the game relatively close throughout, they didn't really threaten the Vols in the second half. Here are some thoughts on the game and what this may all mean for the Tigers down the stretch.
1) Tennessee is peaking right now.
The Vols are not an offensive juggernaut. Their offense is actually in the bottom third of the NCAA, and their team field goal percentage is only good enough for 132nd in the country. But for the second straight game, they shot at an elite level. They converted 57 percent of their shots, 67 percent of their threes, and went 18-21 from the line, which is just a shade over 85 percent.
Their only comparable performance all season against good competition was on Saturday when they beat Kentucky by 30. And against LSU, they hit double the amount of three-pointers. Keeping all that in mind, LSU deserves credit for fighting back and keeping things competitive until the final minute.
2) Jordan McRae had the game of a lifetime.
In many ways, McRae's performance was a microcosm of his team's unique performance last night. A guard who came into the game hitting fewer than a third of his long distance shots, McRae had a night he will never forgot, burying all 6 of his three pointers and going 13 for 18 from the field for a career high 34 points. That was definitely not in the scouting report.
3) LSU didn't get any favors from the officials.
As you may have noticed in the recaps I've done all season, it takes a lot for me to criticize officiating. I haven't called out a single crew all season for their calls because I believe almost officials are doing a good job, and when there are missed calls, they often even out by the end of the game.
However, last night saw Johnny O'Bryant get hammered in the post several times in the first 10-12 minutes, and the Tennessee big men weren't whistled for a foul. This set the tone early on and led JOB III to play higher in the post for a while. It was frustrating to watch, and the ESPNU crew made several mentions of it on the broadcast as well, especially Dino Gaudio.
On top of that, Malik Morgan fouled out in 20 minutes. It's a shame because Morgan was shooting better than any other guard.
4) Despite all of that, O'Bryant was once again the star of the night for LSU.
He put up 24 points on an efficient shooting night (9-16 from the field, 6-8 from the line) and pulled down 8 rebounds before fouling out late in the game.
Over the past 10 games, O'Bryant's game has really clicked. He had three poor performances to start SEC play, but since then, he has averaged 17.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. And he's shooting an efficient 52.3 percent from the field. In other words, he is playing much better against SEC opponents than he did earlier in the season against weaker opposition. Part of this is due to his improved health, but during LSU's recent surge, JOB III has become a focal point in the team's halfcourt offense. No one has been able to stop his ever-improving post moves.
5) Anthony Hickey is still struggling.
On the other hand, Hickey hasn't had a good shooting night since the Tigers' upset over Missouri in late January (which looks even better after Mizzou's shocking home upset of national powerhouse Florida last night). The offense still runs through Hickey, and on nights when he is shooting poorly, LSU is bound to struggle against good opponents. And this is before we get to the unbelievable shooting performance from the Vols.
6) All things considered, it wasn't that bad.
A 12-point road-loss in February is never something to be happy about, especially when it occurs against a foe that won't make the NCAA tournament. However, LSU ran into a team coming off its best performance of the season. And unlike most teams coming off a season-defining win, the Vols did not have a letdown. Cuonzo Martin deserves a ton of credit for bringing his team ready to play.
But LSU fans shouldn't be too frustrated with the loss. The Tigers kept a road game against a team playing their best basketball of the season within reach.
Next up for the Tigers (15-9, 6-7) is a home game against Alabama at 12:30.