Tennessee made a ferocious run at LSU, but it wasn’t enough to tame the Tigers.
LSU beat the Vols 79-73 before a fired-up crowd of 18,526 at Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday night. The Vols have lost four of their last five games at home after winning 37 consecutive games at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Wayne Chism led UT (12-7, 3-2 SEC) with 19 points and freshman Emmanuel Negedu scored a career-high 11 points.
Marcus Thornton led the Tigers (16-4, 4-1) with 29 points and 6-foot-11 center Chris Johnson added 14 points and 14 rebounds as LSU withstood UT’s rally.
The Vols had overcome a 14-point second-half deficit when Chism hit a 3-pointer at the 4:42 mark to give UT its first lead of the night at 69-67.
“You hate to rank the disappointments, but this one ranks at the top,’’ UT coach Bruce Pearl said. “We battled back to take the lead and really felt like we were playing well. We had a rhythm (offensively) and we were defending.’’
But LSU, in dire need of a win over a marquee opponent as it builds its NCAA tournament resume, proved resilient.
The Tigers battled back to reclaim the lead with a 7-2 run, going up 74-71 on Thornton’s three-point play before a Chism putback brought the Vols back within 74-73 with 1:51 left.
LSU’s experience prevailed down the stretch, as the Tigers sank 5 of 7 free throws in the final two minutes while UT’s halfcourt offense went in the tank. The Vols shot 0 for 4 from the floor and turned the ball over twice in the final 1½ minutes.
The most pivotal turnover occurred when Smith stepped on the baseline on his drive after LSU extended the lead to 76-73.
“Tyler drove it, and he drove it out of bounds,’’ Pearl said, “and Marcus Thornton drove it, and he got (a basket) and ‘an-one’ foul.“
The Tigers used a 15-4 run early in the second half to go up by a 61-47 count on a Thornton basket at the 12:45 mark.
But the Vols, sparked by Negedu, answered with a 13-0 burst.
Negedu, whose previous career-high was five points, scored six points during the run that brought UT back to within 61-60 on J.P. Prince’s drive with 9:04 left.
“I get excited about every game I get to play,’’ Negedu said. “I appreciate coach for letting me get in there.’’
The Vols’ run ended when Pearl was called for a technical foul after arguing Johnson stepped out of bounds battling for a loose ball. Replays appeared to show Pearl’s gripe was legitimate.
Thornton drained both ensuing free throws to boost LSU’s lead to 63-60 with 7:08 left.
LSU held a 43-38 lead at the half, leading from the opening tip and going up by as many as nine on three occasions.
Tasmin Mitchell scored all 10 of his points in the first half, but Pearl adjusted, putting Chism on him defensively in the second half and moving Tyler Smith over to guard Johnson.
Pearl played Smith (2 of 7, nine points) at the three (wing) for the first time this season so he could put a larger lineup, with Negedu, on the floor.
The Vols return to action at 9 p.m. against Florida (18-3, 5-1). ESPN’s basketball Gameday set will make its debut in Knoxville.