Tennessee LSU Basketball

LSU guard Xavier Pinson (1) reacts to a score during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

Another SEC game, another wild finish, as LSU men’s basketball pulled away with the 79-67 win over No. 18 Tennessee in a game that featured just about every storyline imaginable.

LSU finished the game on an 8-1 run, after being up only five points with just under two minutes to play, despite dominating for most of the game. The Tigers were short-handed in that stretch, too, as point guard Xavier Pinson went down with what looked to be a scary knee injury in the second half. Thankfully, however, Head Coach Will Wade said on Saturday that Pinson’s injury is not too serious.

“[Pinson] appears to have just a knee sprain,” Wade said. “There doesn’t appear to be any damage with the ACL or MCL, appears to be a knee sprain, but we’ll have to get it looked at tomorrow.”

Pinson’s injury wasn’t the only adversity LSU faced in this game, as many LSU players spent much of the game in foul trouble. The team as a whole was called for 26 fouls during the game. Darius Days was the only player who ended up fouling out, but Brandon Murray, Mwani Wilkinson and Efton Reid all finished the game with four fouls. After the game, Days spoke about all the fouls and how it affected the game.

“It is what it is, that’s what you sign up for when you come to LSU,” Days said when talking about the officiating. “We’re going to stay aggressive and keep playing defense the way we have all season.”

Before fouling out, Days added 15 points for the Tigers in a great front court performance by Days and Tari Eason. Eason led all scorers with 24 points and recorded a double-double adding 12 rebounds. Eason leads LSU in scoring on the season and put together another impressive performance, highlighted by a huge poster dunk over Tennessee’s Olivier Nkamhoua. Wade spoke very highly of Eason after the game, speaking not just on this game, but his season as a whole.

“Tari Eason is one of the best players in the country, that’s not a stretch,” Wade said.

Eason was especially big in the second half, with 17 of his 24 points coming in the final 20 minutes of the game. This allowed LSU to take control in the early part of the half, and not let themselves get all the way back into the game when the Volunteers had their run late in the second half. Eason talked about his second half performance and what allowed him to get going,

“Just getting into the flow of the game,” Eason said. “Picking my open spots in transition, when I can attack, get fouled and knock my free throws down.”

Wade was impressed with the run LSU made early in the second half, as it had been an area where his team has struggled as of late. Those struggles were seen against Kentucky, and Wade was proud of how his team improved in starting the second half in this game.

“I thought we did a much better job getting off to a quick start in the second half,” Wade said. “That was a problem for us against Kentucky and Auburn,”

LSU outscored Tennessee 22-10 in the first eight minutes of the second half, which set the tone for the rest of the game. The Tigers struggled for portions of the second half after that, but that opening stretch allowed for them to never lose control of the game. 

LSU seems to be playing its best basketball right now, but Wade was far from satisfied despite the big win.

“We’ve got to keep moving forward because if we start stepping back or start staying the same, we’ll get passed,” Wade said when talking about the level of competition in the SEC.

The road ahead for LSU does not get much easier, as the Tigers will have another tough game next week against Florida on the road. The Gators are not ranked, but LSU has struggled in recent past in Gainesville, and likely without Pinson, it will be yet another tough game for LSU.

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