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Men’s Hoops Upsets No. 16 Tennessee

LSU notches its biggest win of the 2020-2021 season

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Apologies for getting this up so late, the Mrs. and I had a dinner reservation at 3:00 yesterday. Valentine’s and such.

Anyway...they did it. LSU got the win they so desperately needed over a Quad 1 team, beating No. 16 Tennessee 78-65 and moved into sole possession of second place in the SEC. Technically they’re tied for second in the conference with Arkansas, but LSU owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.

It was a game where LSU was the better team and led for nearly the entire game. Tennessee took a 3-2 lead one minute into the first half and LSU never trailed again, eventually leading by as many as 17 points. All told, LSU trailed for a mere 32 seconds.

For the third year in a row, Javonte Smart torched the Vols. As a freshman Smart scored 29 points; last season in Knoxville, Smart scored 21; and yesterday Smart put up 20. Three games, three wins, 23 points a game.

Smart’s backcourt running mate, Cameron Thomas, was the leading scorer Saturday with 25 points and a perfect 11-11 from the free throw line. Thomas struggled shooting the three-ball, 2-8, but made half of his two-pointers (4-8) and for the second game in a row had four assists. I’ve been critical of Thomas for only being a scorer, so it’s an encouraging sign that he’s creating opportunities for teammates as of late.

Tennessee came into Saturday’s game as one of the best defensive teams in all of college basketball, but LSU was uncharacteristically stout. LSU held Tennessee to 35 percent shooting overall and 29 percent from three. The Tigers forced 11 turnovers and held Tennessee’s stud freshman Keon Johnson to 4-14 shooting.

With the win LSU moved from 32 to 27 in the NET and improved its record against Quadrant 1 teams to 3-5. It is by far and away LSU’s best win of the season and may be what clinches the Tigers an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.

LSU’s schedule this week is up in the air. The Tigers aren’t scheduled to play again until Saturday, where they’ll host Auburn. LSU was scheduled to host Ole Miss on Wednesday, but that game was moved up to fill in LSU’s postponed date against Missouri back on January 9. LSU won’t be able to makeup its games against Missouri or Florida on that open Wednesday date, as both teams have games on Tuesday.

Will Wade said that if the SEC can’t fill that February 17th date, he’ll try and schedule an impromptu non-conference game like when Southeastern and Sam Houston State were brought in on short notice.