Javonte Smart played his best game of the 2019-20 season, scoring 21 points, and helped power LSU to a 78-64 road win over the Tennessee Volunteers Saturday afternoon in Knoxville.
The Tigers opened SEC play with a win in hostile territory. LSU had struggled in Thompson-Boling Arena in recent years losing four of its last five coming in. But just as they did all of last season, LSU went on the road and beat an SEC opponent in their building.
Tennessee got off to a hot start from three. The Volunteers hit four of its first five three-pointers and ended the first half shooting 9-13. But LSU weathered the barrage of Volunteer threes and went into the half up one thanks to a Javonte Smart step back three-pointer with 13.9 seconds to play in the first half. Smart and senior guard Skylar Mays carried the LSU offense combining for 22 of LSU’s 38 first half points.
While Mays and Smart did the heavy lifting for the Tigers in the first half, the second half saw significant scoring from multiple players. Five Tigers scored at least six points in the second half led by Trendon Watford’s nine. In the second half, it was LSU’s turn to catch fire from deep as the Tigers hit four of their eight threes; LSU was also the more aggressive team, getting to the free throw line 14 times compared to Tennessee’s five trips.
The Tiger defense was stout in the second half. LSU held Tennessee to 34 percent from the floor and only allowed four threes. LSU also forced 14 turnovers and converted those opportunities into 19 points.
Smart has had two successful outings against Tennessee, he scored a career best 29 in last season’s game in Baton Rouge and Saturday’s 21 points tied a season high.
Tennessee tweaked its starting lineup. Freshman guard Santiago Vescovi was cleared to play Friday afternoon and he got the start at point guard. Vescovi provided a much needed spark on offense for Tennessee, scoring 18 points and handing out four assists; he also showed an ability to hit from deep, hitting six of nine of threes.
LSU’s next game is against the Arkansas Razorbacks Wednesday evening in the PMAC. Tip off is set for 9 P.M.