Basketball Falls at Tennessee, 81-65

Blakeney scored 20 points in the loss at Tennessee
Blakeney scored 20 points in the loss at Tennessee
Madeline VeZain
Kent Lowe (@LSUkent)
Kent Lowe (@LSUkent)
Communications Sr. Associate

KNOXVILLE, TENN. – LSU lost its second consecutive Southeastern Conference game for the first time in league play this season Saturday night as the home standing Tennessee Volunteers outplayed the Tigers, 81-65, at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The loss dropped LSU to 16-11 overall and 9-5 in the SEC and in a multiple team tie for second in the league. Tennessee upped its record to 13-14 and 6-8 in the league.

LSU’s Ben Simmons had 21 points and nine rebounds to lead LSU. Simmons played the last 36 minutes after not starting the game for what Coach Johnny Jones said was an “academic issue” that needed to be addressed. Simmons was 9-of-16 from the field and 3-of-7 from the line. 

LSU freshman Antonio Blakeney had a strong game in his 36 minutes hitting 8-of-15 field goals, including two treys and two free throws to finish with 20 points and 7 rebounds with no turnovers for the second consecutive game.

Those were the only two players in double figures for LSU as the Tigers were further limited late in the first half when Keith Hornsby was removed from the game with an unannounced injury. He did not return and finished with a rare scoreless game in 12 minutes. 

Tennessee, playing without the second leading scorer in the league, Kevin Punter, had four players in double figures as they took control of the game in the second half, hitting 64.5 percent in the second half (20-of-31). Robert Hubbs had 19 points, with Armani Moore 17, Shembari Phillips 13 and Detrick Mostella 10.

LSU actually outshot Tennessee in the first half 35.5 percent (11-of-31) to 34.4 for the Vols (11-of-32), but Tennessee hit four treys to LSU’s one and 5-2 in free throws as the Tigers trailed at the intermission, 31-25.

In the second 20 minutes, it took Tennessee three minutes to get the game to double figures and expanded the lead to 17 with 13:30 to play. LSU cut the game to 10 at 52-42 with 9:42 to play, but the Vols continued to get easy baskets and pushed the lead to as much as 19 with 5:47 to play. 

LSU shot 40.3 percent for the game (25-of-62), 5-of-15 from three-point range and 10-of-16 from the free throw line. Tennessee finished the game at 49.2% (31-of-63) with seven treys and 12-of-20 free throws.

Tennessee had a 42-36 advantage in points in the paint and led the game for 35:45.

The Tigers turned the ball over 16 times to 12 for Tennessee.

LSU now must get home and get ready to lead again on Monday afternoon for a Tuesday 6 p.m. game at the University of Arkansas. The game is set for 6 p.m. at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville and will be televised by ESPNU and the LSU Sports Radio Network. 

Follow updates on LSU Basketball at www.Facebook.com/LSUBasketball and on Twitter @LSUBasketball.

LSU Head Coach Johnny Jones

Opening Statement...

"Coming in, we knew it would be a tough basketball game up here. We didn't think after we got the news that one of their premier starters wouldn't be available to them that we should be able to relax. We talked to the team about (Tennessee) being a great shooting team with guys that have the ability to step up. They were able to show that tonight. We just didn't do a good job on the defensive end of the floor, especially in the second half. Guys had their way making layups, second-chance opportunities, offensive rebounds, making plays. They shot 64 percent in the second half. We came up short against a very good, talented basketball team. We did not have the flow that we needed offensively, in terms of making plays in the first half. We got a little bit better flow in the second half, but I think we were playing a very confident basketball team. Unfortunately tonight, we came up short."

On if he felt like the team relaxed when they found out Kevin Punter Jr. was not playing...

"No. I think a prime example is Mississippi State played today in Tuscaloosa with their premier players out. Mississippi State was able to go in there and win a big basketball game. Any time you find a team like that, other teams have a little edge about themselves and they step up, and I think that's exactly what happened here today."

On if his team feels any pressure this late in the season...

"No. I don't think that we are as locked in, possibly, as we were early. I think that we had the flow that we normally play with tonight early on in the game. I thought we wanted to try to concentrate and go on and punch the ball inside. I thought they took us a little bit out of a rhythm, primarily our shooters. That hurt us a little bit in terms of scoring."

 

On difficulty bouncing back from Wednesday’s loss to Alabama...

"(Tennessee) is a good team. They've knocked out some good teams here: Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida. We knew that they were very capable. We know they are efficient offensively and they make plays."

On why Ben Simmons did not start...

"I had to address some academic stuff with him. It was early in the week, and it was an attention-getter for him. We are hopeful this will help get him closer to concentrating on what he should be doing."

On if Simmons not starting affected the game...

"No. He played 36 minutes in the game, so I don't think it had any effect."

On if Tennessee did anything unique on Saturday night...

"No, I think they just had guys step up. Other guys that maybe had been looking for an opportunity to play additional minutes, the opportunity was tonight. They had a great flow offensively and I think it showed in the percentage they shot, 64 percent in the second half. Nineteen assists on 31 made baskets. I thought they played well." 

On his perceptions of his team’s performance...

“I thought we had a little bit better of a flow going before the second half. We wanted to win; to be able to win you have to have a certain level of focus. You have to concentrate and be able to play through the runs in really tight games. It was a good opportunity today and we didn’t take advantage of a good opportunity.”

On the areas that his team came up short...

“They made plays and there were several times that I thought we had good defensive possessions. The shot clock was about to go out and they winded up hitting threes. We got second-chance opportunities with rebounds around the basket and we just made plays where we thought we had good defensive possession. We had good defensive possessions and winded up not finishing them. You have to finish your possessions off and they made two or three shots from deep when the shot clock was actually running out. They made a bunch of plays and we turned it over.”

On suffering consecutive defeats...

“It’s never easy. We have four left. All four games will be extremely tough and difficult. We have to make sure that we prepare and try to win the next one. They’re never easy.”

On his message to the team...

“We just have to do some soul searching. We have to dig down deep to see if we’re a part of the problem or a part of the solution. That’s all we can do to get better so our team will make the type of progress that it needs to and have success down this stretch.”

On his team’s mindset entering the final stretch of the season...

“We want to win, winning it important. We will prepare ourselves and we have to focus; that’s what we have control over. “

On the challenges that face his team the rest of the way...

“I know where we were at this time last year. I know how our team plays and we’re in a tough conference. It’s difficult and winning is hard; you just have to make sure that you win games but unfortunately, we didn’t win the tough one today."

 

--

Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes

Opening Statement...

“What can you say? Armani (Moore)—look at his (stat) line. Shembari (Phillips), (Robert) Hubbs—I mean everyone. I told our guys if we had to give a game ball out it would be to Derek Reese. A guy who has had to sit there behind a freshman this year but when he was a called on he really did a nice job for us. A great win.

“We wanted to keep them off the free throw line which we did a good job of that. Without KP (Kevin Punter Jr.), we weren’t in as good a sync offensively. But once we settled into a few of our half-court sets, we did start doing some things pretty well. It was really a nice win for us.”

On when he knew Kevin Punter Jr. would not play...

“Well we weren’t sure because he’s such a tough kid. Yesterday he came in and (athletic trainer) Chad Newman was doing a great job treating him, so we weren’t sure until probably this morning in shoot around. I walked into shoot around and he was out there just standing and shooting. But we pretty much knew that he wasn’t going to go more so this morning more than anything.”

On the prognosis regarding Punter’s injury...

“It’s day-to-day. It’s a right ankle injury, and it’s day-to-day.”

On Armani Moore’s performance...

“He had to do a lot of things for us. We needed him to guard (LSU freshman) Ben Simmons at times and help Shembari (Phillips) a lot. He had to do that a lot. Again, a lot was put on Shembari’s plate today. We tried to lighten it as much as we could, and I think Armani probably helped him as much as anything. We told everybody, ‘All you guys have practiced all year long, you’re here, you’ve worked hard, and when your number’s called you have to be ready.’ A couple of really huge plays, I thought Kyle’s (Alexander) three-point play on that rebound. And if you look at Armani, just a great line, 17 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, and four steals. And a big play for him was when he knocked that ball out of bounds, because they were running the ball at us pretty quick at the end, just trying to drive. They went with four guards and tried to put pressure on us, and we went zone once and it wasn’t a good call on my part, and it gave them a wide open three. But again, just a good win.”

On if losing Kevin Punter Jr. motivated the team...

“Honestly, we didn’t make a big deal about it. Thinking back to practice, one of the greatest things that I think has happened for Shembari (Phillips) was from the time he got here, before Lamonte Turner was in school here, he went the whole summer having to play the point. And he’s never played it before in his life either. And you go back where he’s gotten better at it and I think it’s a great opportunity for him, but I don’t think he could have done it without Armani back there with him, the way he was. But that’s another reason we had (Derek) Reese out there because he does a good job handling the ball. We needed all of them to do it. But even when I go back to the Mississippi State game (when Moore was out due to injury), we didn’t make a big deal out of it, we said, ‘This is what we have. We have to go play, we have to believe in each other, we have to play with a lot of emotion, we have to play every possession, and we’ll guard and we’ll find a way.’ And that’s kind of what we said today, we’ll just guard and we’ll find a way. And we missed some shots early as they did, but again, we’ve just never made a big deal about it when somebody is down with an injury.”

On being successful at home and not so much on the road...

“There’s no question about that, and it’s consistency. It goes back to just that. We can play the ‘What if?’ game. I think I mentioned a week ago, when we were in film room looking at some stats—which we hardly ever do—we talked about how many games we could’ve won that we didn’t, but we also talked about some that we won that we could’ve lost. It evens out. The fact is, you are who you are. We are right now, 13-14 (overall), 6-8 in the league. If I played that ‘What if?’ game, we all do that, but we are who we are right now. It doesn’t do any good to do that.”

On the team’s ability to distribute the ball...

“We actually told our guys, ‘Let’s rely on our offense, and let’s let it work for us. Cut, get the ball moving.’ Once we get out of our initial thrust down the floor in transition … People have asked me all year. We don’t run a lot of plays for (specific players). We have counters in the offense. We have some drivers, like in the first half when Shembari (Phillips) drove the ball. I think you might think we’re running the same thing, but that was what we call an empty set where that was set up for a drive. That’s what it was set up for. Armani (Moore) driving from the top, we call that basic run four. We try to pick up some things. We wanted to drive the ball today, that’s why I got upset a little bit early in the game when I thought we settled for some quick threes where we (should have) wanted to drive. We can hit those shots any time. We have some things, I’m not going to say that we don’t, but you’d be amazed how much. I’m going to tell you why we’ve done that. It’s just for this situation. We didn’t want to have a team where we’re running a lot of plays for Kevin Punter in case he got hurt, or a lot of plays for Armani Moore in case he got hurt. We looked at it and said we played the ‘What if?’ game. If it could go wrong it could, so we had an offense that with whoever we put out there, it would work. It’s pretty interchangeable.”

On what he sees in Robert Hubbs III...

“I love the kid, I really do. Frustrating kid to coach. I’m telling you, before he’s done here, I’m going to figure him out. I promise you that. He’s going to kill me or I’m going to kill him, one or the other. I’m going to figure him out, because he’s too good a kid not to help him figure it out. He’s too talented not to. He’s got to get a game, but I’ll go back, too. He missed a lot of preseason, which is a lot of the grind. He does some things really well. He’s got great hands, he sees it, and he can score around the basket. He rushed a few tonight. I love the kid, and there’s just so much more that we know he can be.”

On the game plan against LSU forward Ben Simmons...

“Five guys guarding him (was) what we wanted, because he’s a terrific passer. We wanted to fill up the lane, and try to take away as much space from him as we could. We were ready to double more. I’ll tell you something that impressed me about our guys: This is the first time we’ve had a turnaround like this. We treated it like we’ve always treated a Saturday to Monday game. We came in yesterday, did nothing physically with the guys, just strictly talked to them mentally. Walked through it today a little bit, not much. I thought they were really locked in, from something that we haven’t had to do all year. As a group, we wanted to shrink the court. They score a lot of points in the paint. Where they’ve beat a lot of people is the free throw line. You look at the paint numbers. In the paint, we won that battle. We wanted to close down that lane as much as we could, and some of that was a little distorted at the end where they got some of those dunks there. A big stat was keeping them off the free throw line, and obviously we talked about rebounding the ball.”

On his team having a sense of urgency without Kevin Punter Jr....

"Yeah, I think so. We don't do very well when we stand and watch. We're thinking really hard on defense. We've become a really good defensive team. We're scrambling and what we have to quit doing, and Detrick (Mostella) does it more than anybody, he's the one that's always slapping the ball on rebounds as opposed to going and getting it. And he's knocking it out of our own guys' hands. He shouldn't be slapping the ball. The guys were getting on him during the game saying, 'Either get it or leave it alone,' because he's the guy that keeps knocking it out. Again, we're a team that on any given night, we have a bunch of guys that could do some things. I've said to all of you, I love these guys, and just know that they've worked hard, but we've become a really good defensive team, and I think that hurts you a little bit sometimes on the offensive end because we put people in long possessions sometimes. Then, if we come down and shoot it quick, which we don't mind doing with the right guy, it could be us on offense for six to eight seconds, then we have to come back and grind it again, but we've gotten better on the defensive end."

On senior Derek Reese adjusting to getting limited minutes...

"Well what he did is what we've asked him to do from day one: guard somebody. He can guard. He's a smart player. He's a guy that can handle the ball. He knows how to run offense. I could put Derek Reese any spot on the floor and he would know how to work it. But the one thing we've told him all year long is that we need defense and rebounds in that position. We don't care if we score there. He's not going to play what we would call the trail position—he doesn't have to score—but he's got to play defense and rebound. I think it's tough when you've got Kyle (Alexander) playing in front of him, Admiral (Schofield) down there—two freshmen—but for him to stay on edge and do what he did, I think it shows great character. I think it shows that he's not giving up. It's not an easy role to be in. He changed his role a little bit today. If you go back to the beginning of the year, that's what he was doing, and then he got away from it where he just watched it a little too much, but I'm happy for him. He's been a good teammate. He hasn't ever been a problem. He comes to practice, and we told them that everyone has got to be ready because who knows what is going to happen."

On Shembari looking unaffected during his season-high 38 minutes of action...

"Oh, he was affected. You guys wouldn't know, but I did. How I know is that he didn't run our offense. He just stayed down the sidelines. We haven't done that all year. We do love his demeanor. We do love his competitive spirit, but he's got to fight for his space. He had chances to get out and run with it today, but he was content bringing it down the floor. Armani (Moore) kept telling him to come on. I think today he was not as sure of himself as we want him to be, but today has to be a big day for him. He's going to learn a lot because that's the most minutes he's ever played. He had to play 38 minutes. I would say he had a lot on his plate. He did a good job, but he didn't get us in our offense the way that we needed him to."

On if he’ll need to be diligent in keeping Kevin Punter Jr. off his feet...

"No, he's smart enough now because he's such a tough kid that he understands that he's got to. It's day to day, and he'll do the right thing." 

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