Hoops Preview: #18 Tennessee at #21 LSU

The 18th-ranked Tennessee men’s basketball team embarks on its second SEC road trip this weekend, taking on No. 21 LSU in Baton Rouge on Saturday.

Fans can catch Saturday’s game on ESPN2 and online or on any mobile device through WatchESPN. WatchESPN can be accessed through the ESPN App, or online at espn.com/watch. Tom Hart (play-by-play) and Daymeon Fishback (analysis) will have the call. 
 
Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Bob Kesling and Ron Slay calling the action. The broadcast is also available on channel 134 on Sirius, channel 190 on SiriusXM and channel 961 on the SiriusXM app.

Vols G Josiah-Jordan James / Credit: UT Athletics


 
Tennessee (10-3, 1-1 SEC) picked up its first SEC win in overtime over Ole Miss on Wednesday, 66-60. Despite never leading during regulation and trailing by as many as 12 points, the Vols’ defense kept them in the game—forcing 27 Ole Miss turnovers and recording 17 steals. Tennessee’s 17 steals were its most in any game since Dec. 23, 2009 and its most in an SEC game since Feb. 21, 2007.
 
Offensively, junior guard Santiago Vescovi led the Vols with 17 points, 12 of which came in the last four minutes of regulation or overtime. Vescovi added six rebounds and five assists. Olivier Nkamhoua and Josiah-Jordan James also scored in double figures with 13 and 10 points, respectively.
 
After its quick trip down to Louisiana, Tennessee returns to Thompson-Boling Arena next week for a matchup with South Carolina on Tuesday, Jan. 11. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. ET on SEC Network.
 
THE SERIES
• Tennessee leads the all-time series with LSU, 65-49, dating to 1933.
• The Tigers hold a 27-26 edge when the series is contested in Baton Rouge. The Vols had won five straight at the PMAC before falling in each of their last three visits.
• Fifth-year LSU head coach Will Wade is a Nashville native and graduate of Franklin Road Academy.
• Saturday marks Tennessee’s fifth game this season against an AP top-25 opponent. The Vols are 2-2 vs. top-25 opposition thus far.
• This is the first time since January of 2012 that Tennessee has faced three top-25 opponents in a four-game span. In 2011-12, the Vols defeated No. 13 Florida before falling to No. 20 Mississippi State and No. 2 Kentucky—all consecutively.
• LSU and Tennessee boast the nation’s No. 1- and No. 2-rated KenPom defensive efficiencies.
 
LAYUP LINES – TEAM
• Wednesday against Ole Miss, the Vols managed to win a game they never led during regulation.
• Tennessee forced the Rebels into five shot-clock violations.
• According to KenPom, the Vols rank second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing only 85.7 points per 100 possessions. College teams typically average close to 70 possessions per game.
• The Vols rank among the Division I top 10 in turnover margin (+6.7, 6th), steals per game (10.8, 8th) and assists per game (18.2, 9th).
• Tennessee’s 11.5 turnovers per game is the lowest (best) average in the SEC.
• The Vols are attempting 8.6 more 3-pointers per game than they did last season (28.5 per game compared to 19.9). In wins, UT is shooting .375 from long range. In losses, that average drops to .188.
• In five games away from home this season, Tennessee has held opponents to just 65.4 ppg. And those teams are shooting .372 from the field.
 
LAYUP LINES – PLAYERS
• In SEC play, true freshman Zakai Zeigler ranks third in the league in free-throw percentage (.875) and fourth in steals (3.5 spg).
• Junior guard Santiago Vescovi has 16 steals over UT’s last six games (2.7 spg).
• In two career games vs. LSU, Vescovi is shooting .529 (9-for-17) from 3-point range and averaging 15.5 points.
• Vescovi has played 74:07 of a possible 85:00 minutes through UT’s first two SEC games.
• Kennedy Chandler’s 5.4 assists per game rank second in Division I among true freshmen.
• The SEC record for career games played is 152, held by Kentucky’s Darius Miller (2008-12). John Fulkerson is closing in, having now appeared in a Tennessee-record 143 career games.
 
ABOUT LSU
• Prior to splitting its first two SEC games, LSU entered conference play with a perfect 12-0 record, featuring wins over power conference opponents Penn State, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.
• After having not faced a ranked opponent during its first 12 games of the season, Saturday’s matchup with No. 18 Tennessee marks LSU’s third straight game against a ranked foe. The Tigers fell in their SEC opener at No. 11 Auburn, 70-55, before defeating No. 16 Kentucky on Tuesday, 65-60.
• Saturday’s game is a matchup of the nation’s two top-rated defenses in adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom. LSU’s defense ranks No. 1, allowing just 82.7 points per 100 possessions, while Tennessee is No. 2 with a 85.7 mark.
• LSU surrenders just 0.675 points per possession—a mark that leads the nation. The Tigers’ defense also ranks near the best in the nation in several other categories: field-goal percentage defense (1st; .347), steals per game (2nd; 12.4) and scoring defense (4th; 55.6 ppg).
• The Tigers’ leading scorer, sophomore forward Tari Eason, is a first-year transfer from Cincinnati and was named to the 2021 All-AAC Freshman Team. Averaging 15.6 points per game, Eason currently ranks sixth in the SEC in scoring.
• In Tennessee’s home win over Cincinnati last season, Eason started and totaled seven point and seven rebounds in 26 minutes of action.
• LSU’s starting point guard and third-leading scorer is Missouri transfer Xavier Pinson. Pinson played three seasons at Mizzou. In 2020-21, he averaged a career-best 13.6 points per game. This season for LSU, Pinson has started all 14 games at point guard, averaging 11.0 points, 4.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game.
• Senior forward Darius Days, a Preseason First Team All-SEC selection, is LSU’s second-leading scorer (14.3 ppg) and leading rebounder (7.9 rpg).
 
LAST MEETING WITH LSU
•  A tough day from the field and 20-point outputs from Cameron Thomas and Javonte Smart were too much for the No. 16 Tennessee basketball team to overcome on Feb. 13, 2021, as it fell to LSU, 78-65, at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
•  The Vols shot just 35 percent from the field, while the Tigers shot the ball at a highly efficient clip of 52 percent.
• Freshman Jaden Springer led the Vols in scoring, finishing with 21 points and eclipsing the 20-point mark for the third consecutive game. Springer also logged six rebounds and a season-high seven assists with just one turnover.
•  Classmate Keon Johnson finished with 12 points, four rebounds and a pair of steals.
•  Santiago Vescovi was the third Vol to score in double-figures, with 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting.
•  Josiah-Jordan James was all over the stat sheet, recording nine points, six rebounds, two steals and a block.
•  LSU controlled the majority of the opening half, using a 16-4 run through the middle portions of the period to build a lead as a large as 12.
•  Over the final five minutes, the Vols used a 10-3 run of their own to cut their deficit to five, as the Tigers took a slim, 31-26 lead into the break.
•  LSU continued to hold the edge as the contest reached its latter stages, taking a 59-49 lead into the final 7:44 of the afternoon.
•  The Tigers held off the Vols during the final stretches of the contest to cement the final score.
 
MEMORABLE VOL PERFORMANCES AGAINST LSU
• Knoxville native Doug Roth blocked a school-record six shots vs. LSU on Jan. 11, 1989, lifting UT to a 100-96 win over the Tigers in Knoxville.
• Anthony Richardson went 14-for-14 from the free-throw line, the best charity-stripe performance in school history, at LSU on Jan. 12, 1985. But the Vols fell that day by a score of 75-65.
• Ron Widby set a UT single-game scoring record, (which stood for 20 years) against LSU on March 4, 1967, scoring 50 points on 19-of-39 shooting (both also single-game records) and 12-of-14 from the charity strip. UT won 87-60 in Knoxville.
•  After arriving in the United States and joining the team just seven days prior to the game, guard Santiago Vescovi started and scored 18 points on six 3-pointers, grabbed six rebounds and dished out four assists as the Vols fell to LSU in Knoxville on Jan. 4, 2020.
 
LOUISIANA LETTERMEN RARE
• In 112 seasons of varsity basketball, Tennessee has had only one letterman from the state of Louisiana: forward Maurice Robertson (New Orleans) in 1996.
 
RECAPPING A “REALLY TOUGH, HARD, NOT-PRETTY” WIN
• Tennessee committed a season-high 19 turnovers, never led in regulation, but somehow found a way to win against Ole Miss in Knoxville on Jan. 5. Multiple bright spots helped the Vols dispatch the Rebels…
• Tennessee’s 27 forced turnovers were a Barnes-era record and led to 22 points.
• UT’s 17 steals also were a Barnes-era best. Zakai Zeigler (5), Kennedy Chandler (4) and Santiago Vescovi (3) combined for 12 of those steals.
• The Vols assisted on 21 of their 25 made field goals (.840 assist rate).
• Tennessee scored 19 points in 20 first-half minutes while shooting 8-of-30 (.267) from the floor. In the five-minute OT period, the Vols scored 15 points and made 5-of-6 shots from the floor (.833).
 
O DELIVERS FROM DEEP
• Junior forward Olivier Nkamhoua’s last two made 3-pointers both came when the Vols were trailing, and both shots made it a one-possession game.
• Nkamhoua’s lone 3-pointer at Alabama came with 50 seconds left in the game and pulled the trailing Vols to within one point, 68-67.
• His long ball vs. Ole Miss cut the Vols’ second-half deficit to two, 24-22.
 
SUSTAINED SUCCESS 
• Tennessee is the SEC’s second-winningest program over the last five year (since the start of the 2017-18 season)—both in terms of total wins and winning percentage.
 
TEAM            TOTAL WINS          TEAM            WIN PCT.
Auburn           107-39                    Auburn          .733
Tennessee     102-41                    Tennessee    .713
Kentucky        101-43                    Kentucky      .701
LSU                 99-43                      LSU             .697
 
VESCOVI CLUTCH AT THE FREE-THROW LINE IN CRUNCH TIME
• Junior Santiago Vescovi has proven to deliver at the free-throw line in crunch time for the Vols.
• For his career, Vescovi is 42 of 44 from the foul line in the final four minutes of regulation and all of overtime. That’s a near-automatic percentage of .955.

-UT Athletics

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