Counzo Martin on Tennessee's win OT win over LSU
Tennessee freshman Jarnell Stokes was thinking to himself he wasn't having a very good men's basketball game Wednesday night at LSU.
That's what the scoreboard suggested when the Tigers fed off their rowdy Senior Night crowd at the Pete Maravich Center and forged to a 31-16 lead at the 4:50 mark of the first half.
"It didn't seem to me I was doing too good, because we'd come out, and we didn't play real good,'' Stokes said. "But in the second half, we stepped it up.''
The Vols (17-13, 9-6 SEC) didn't hold the lead in regulation against LSU (17-12, 7-8), but they managed to tie the game up before winning in overtime, 74-69.
The win keeps alive UT's hopes for a second-place finish in the SEC and a first-round bye in the league tournament, which runs March 8-11 in New Orleans.
Tennessee finishes the regular season playing host to Vanderbilt (21-9, 10-5) on Saturday (TV: ESPN, 4 p.m.) at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols, who will be playing before a sellout crowd, need to beat the Commodores and have Florida lose at home to Kentucky on Sunday to finish second.
Stokes' career-high 18 points at LSU on Wednesday — on 9-of-10 shooting — played a pivotal role in the Vols enhancing their post-season scenarios.
UT go-to guy Jeronne Maymon was scoreless at the half, plagued by two fouls that limited him to 11 minutes as the Tigers took a 35-24 lead into intermission.
"When Jeronne was in foul trouble, we all kept telling Jarnell he had to step up for us to win,'' said Vols sophomore Jordan McRae, who chipped in nine points and four rebounds. "Jarnell hit a huge shot in the second half; that's something big for an 18-year-old on the road in the SEC.''
Stokes scored eight of his points in a four-minute stretch of the second half, the final basket of his flurry coming on a jumper just inside the free-throw line that tied the game at 57-57 with 3:54 left.
"I work on that shot a lot,'' Stokes said. "I usually try to be more aggressive going to the rim, but at the time it was necessary for me to take it.''
Stokes' work wasn't done; his ability to defend off a high ball screen on the final play of regulation sent the game into overtime.
With the score tied 60-60, LSU guard Anthony Hickey came off a pick and blazed down the lane, a clear path to the basket before him until Stokes launched his 6-foot-8, 270-pound frame high into the air, his arms outstretched enough to make Hickey alter his running shot at the buzzer.
"I saw he had the lane, but we work on that all the time in practice,'' Stokes said. "A lot of teams seem to run the high ball screen at me now, that's why I have to work on it. And Coach (Jon) Harris has been spending a lot of time with me on it, and it really paid off.''
Harris, one of UT's three assistant coaches, was beaming after the game, having seen his up-and-coming star pupil execute in the clutch.
"It's all him; I was on the bench,'' Harris said. "He's worked hard at it.''
Tough Loss: LSU coach Trent Johnson said afterward it was "probably about the toughest loss we have had all year.''
"We had a hard time guarding them in the post because we gambled,'' Johnson said. "When you gamble on a kid like Maymon, and then Stokes ... it gets their confidence up.
"(Stokes) is nine out of 10 (shooting), and Maymon was everything he should be down the stretch.''
Maymon's Streak: Maymon scored all 14 of his points after intermission, continuing his streak of having scored 12 points in every SEC game.
Maymon was 8-for-10 shooting from the free-throw line, and the Vols collectively were 19-for-22 (86.4 percent) — their best performance at the line this season.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32