The #13 LSU Tigers (22-5), playing without leading-scorer Tremont Waters, pulled off another high-profile upset in the SEC by defeating #5 Tennessee (24-3) in a thrilling overtime victory 82-80.
Waters, a sophomore point guard, averaging 15.7 points per game, sat out due to an undisclosed illness. The team found out approximately four hours before tip off that Waters would be unable to suit up for action.
LSU’s head coach, Will Wade, tapped freshman Ja’vonte Smart to take over at point guard. Smart responded with a career-high 29 points and he sank several clutch free-throws down the stretch to seal the win. Admiral Schofield scored 27 points for the Tennessee Vols in a losing effort.
In the last 11 days, LSU picked off Kentucky and Tennessee. With the overtime victory, LSU moved into a three-way tie for first place in the SEC with Kentucky (23-4) and Tennessee.
Baton Rogue Tough
Coming into the game against first-place Tennessee, LSU found themselves as a two-point underdog. When word got out that Tremont Waters was not starting, the line jumped to four points.
Things could have gotten really bad early in the game when LSU lost its second-best scorer to foul trouble. Naz Reid got whistled for two quick fouls and did not play the rest of the first half.
From the get-go, LSU found themselves without their top two scorers. The rest of the team stepped up, particularly Ja’vonte Smart, who is a former Louisiana high school Player of the Year.
Smart got off to a slow start, but finished strong with 29 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. He also went a cool 9-for-10 from the free throw line.
“He’s a special player,” said junior shooting guard Skylar Mays. “I knew he was going to have a great game today. He always shows up in the big-time moments. I’m just so proud and happy for him.”
Mays scored 23 points, who is ten more points than his season average. Kavell Bigby-Williams, the big man from London, England, added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“It proves that we have a lot of weapons,” said Mays. “Something that I knew at the beginning of the season. We’re a much better team when Tremont is on the floor, but when he’s not like it was today and playing against a team that will probably go to the Final Four, I think it showed a lot about the level of talent we have.”
Coach Wade addressed the crowd after the win. “Our team lays it on the line for Louisiana every night. We didn’t have the best circumstances today, but we found a way, and that’s what we do in Louisiana. Boot up, baby!”
Another Day, Another Upset
LSU picked off Kentucky 11 days earlier on a controversial buzzer-beater. At the time, LSU held a #13 rank, while Kentucky was #5. Kavell Bigby-Williams tipped in a shot at the buzzer that should have been goaltending. The refs missed the call and LSU defeated Kentucky.
Smart came off the bench in the Kentucky game to score 8 points and 5 assists.
The victory propelled LSU to a #13 ranking in the most-recent poll. Perhaps this win could inch the Tigers even closer to the Top 10? They beat two of the best teams in the SEC, let alone the country.
On Deck for LSU
Only four more regular season games remain for the Tigers. They host Texas A&M this week, before hitting the road for two big SEC games at Alabama and at Florida. LSU previously lost to Florida by five points in a crushing overtime-defeat in Baton Rogue earlier in the week.
LSU closes out the regular season against last-place Vanderbilt. The Commodores are 0-14 in SEC action.
Kentucky and Tennessee have one more meeting on March 2. Two weeks ago, Kentucky upset Tennessee when the Vols were the top-ranked team in the country.