BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The No. 13 LSU Tiger basketball team, without its leading scorer, took down No. 5 Tennessee.
LSU reported guard Tremont Waters was out of the game with an illness. Ja’Vonte Smart started in his place.
Waters leads the Tigers’ scoring attack this season with 15.7 points per game. He also dishes out 5.9 assists per game and has 78 steals this season.
“Tremont leads most of our offense," said Skylar Mays. "He does a great job and we cannot wait to get him back. We definitely need to be a lot more aggressive and try to emulate what he does as much as possible.”
“Obviously a tremendous, tremendous win for us under a lot of adversity," said head coach Will Wade. "I thought Ja’Vonte [Smart] was phenomenal. I told somebody before the game that it probably wasn’t going to be as aesthetically pleasing. He’s going to get the job done. That’s what he does. It won’t look as crisp, but he’s going to get the job done and he’s done that for us all season long. Very, very proud of him and Skylar [Mays] and Kavell [Bigby-Williams] with the double-double. I was just very, very proud of our team overall. We overcame a lot of adversity. We had to pretty much flip our game plan in a night on things. We were able to do that and our guys were really locked in and focused. We did an extra walk-through this morning. We were basically walking through until we went on the court to warm up so we could get some things going. The initial plan was to feed Naz [Reid] the ball down low then he got the two fouls and that really hurt us there. We had to go to Plan C from there. In the second half, I thought we turned the game by getting the ball in the paint and being able to beat them in the paint. We were down four in the paint at halftime and I think we won by eight, so we were able to flip that by 12 points. Being able to convert those points off turnovers, we won that battle by eight. We did a good job going to the free-throw line as well. Just a great team win and a great team atmosphere. That’s as good as it gets for college basketball. For our fans to be here at 11 a.m. like that, the students, it was awesome. Hopefully, everybody will come back on Tuesday night.”
Smart led the way for the Tigers with a career-high 29 points. He also dished out a game-high five assists and had five rebounds. Mays added 23 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:15 left in regulation to tie the game at 69-69.
“We knew they were going to make some jumpers," said Smart. "We watched film on them and they make a lot of jumpers and mid-range shots. Me and Skylar said ‘stay aggressive and just get to the rack’.”
The game was tied 71-71 at the end of regulation.
In overtime, with LSU trailing 78-80, Kavell Bigby-Williams had a huge offensive rebound and put-back with :06 left to tie the game at 80. Bigby-Williams pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds for the Tigers. Tennessee drove to the other end of the court, but missed the shot. Smart rebounded and was fouled. He made both free throws to secure the Tigers’ 82-80 win in OT.
“Yesterday at practice we shot free throws. I did not miss a free throw in practice. So, I just said ‘practice makes perfect’ and I went up to the free throw line with a lot of confidence,” Smart explained.
Naz Reid picked up two quick fouls early and had to sit most of the first half. He had no points at the end of regulation and finished the game scoring only one point. He averages 13.8 points per game.
The PMAC was packed with 13,581, the sixth largest announced crowd in the present configuration of the building (since the 2005-06 season), according to LSU.
“You cannot beat it. We get so much energy from them. It would have been a much different game if we would have not had that type of crowd,” Mays added.
The Tigers scored 30 points in the paint to Tennessee’s 22. They also scored 17 second-chance points to 11 by the Vols. LSU capitalized on Tennessee’s mistakes, scoring 17 points off turnovers. The bench play was also a big factor in this win for the Tigers. LSU’s bench scored more than double what Tennessee did, winning the battle 17-8.
LSU played a school-record sixth overtime game in 2018-19. With the win, the Tigers improved to 22-5 overall and 12-2 in SEC play.
Tennessee fell to 24-3, 12-2 in the SEC.
There were 11 ties in the game and 13 lead changes. LSU, Tennessee, and Kentucky have a three-way tie in the SEC. Each team is 12-2 in conference play. However, LSU has tiebreakers over both teams.
LSU: Texas A&M, Alabama, Florida, Vanderbilt
Tennessee: Ole Miss, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Auburn
Kentucky: Arkansas, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Florida
Kentucky cruised to an 80-53 win over Auburn.