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March 1, 2012

Tennessee rallies past Tigers

In the first 20 minutes of its game against Tennessee on Wednesday night, LSU received sparkling play from all four post players.

The Tigers, who took an 11-point lead into halftime, were thoroughly outplayed by the Volunteers' two inside players - Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon - after halftime.

Stokes and Maymon combined for 26 points after halftime to spark Tennessee's 74-69 overtime victory against LSU. The loss severely damaged the Tigers' chances of reaching the postseason. LSU must win at Auburn in the regular-season finale Saturday to finish with an 8-8 Southeastern Conference record.

"That's painful," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "I thought we played a really good first half. Going into this game, I talked to this group about being able to sustain for 35 to 40 minutes because Tennessee has a level of physical and mental toughness that had been impressive all year long.

"We had a lot of opportunities. We had a lot of shots that didn't go down for us. We played well. We just didn't make plays. We didn't make baskets down the stretch and sometimes it happens like that."

LSU (17-12, 7-8) took a 60-57 lead with 3:36 remaining in regulation on a 3-pointer by Anthony Hickey. The Volunteers, who have won seven of their last eight games, pulled even when Maymon made a foul shot with 2:16 to go. Neither team scored again. Hickey missed a runner in the lane at the buzzer.

"Tennessee gave us the same look as Mississippi State did (when Stringer hit a game-winning runner)," Johnson said. "He got in the lane and had a runner, which was a pretty good shot."

A 3-pointer by Cameron Tatum on the first possession of overtime gave Tennessee (17-13, 9-6) its first lead of the night at 63-60. Andre Stringer connected on three of four foul shots to tie the score with 3:22 to play.

Trae Golden, Tennessee's leading scorer who had just five points in regulation, then made the key play. He drove the lane and converted a three-point play with 1:27 to go. The Vols never trailed again.

"Andre (Stringer) had done a good job on Golden until late in the game," Johnson said. "(Justin Hamilton) came over a little too late. Late in the game in regulation, Justin was able to get over and draw a charge."

LSU had one opportunity to tie the score, but Hamilton missed a 3-point shot with 17 seconds remaining. Golden then clinched the victory by making six consecutive foul shots in the final 16 seconds.

"Tennessee went at us in the second half," Hamilton said. "They started doing a lot of different counters to get their big guys the ball. They got a lot of touch shots. On defense, they started switching a little bit and they were rotating well."

LSU grabbed a 35-24 halftime lead due to the work of their four post players. Seniors Malcolm White and Storm Warren, who got starts on Senior Night, combined for 13 first-half points - seven from White. Hamilton and Johnny O'Bryant combined for 15 first-half points - nine from Hamilton.

But, those four players combined for only 15 points after halftime. Hamilton led the way for the game with 17 points and nine rebounds. O'Bryant contributed 11 points. In the second half and overtime, Warren had one basket and White didn't score.

"We have let these last two games slip away from us because of the mistakes we've made," Warren said. "The season's still here. We still have to stay focused. I would have loved to definitely have a win under my belt for my last home game. It hurts a little bit. It's hard to put into words."

The Tigers' two wing players - Ralston Turner and Stringer - did very little on the offensive end. Both players made a single a basket in four attempts. Turner had four points and two rebounds in 28 minutes. Stringer, who missed two days of practice with the flu, had six points and three assists in 32 minutes.

Hickey knocked down four 3-pointers for 12 points, but he couldn't connect on the runner in the lane at the end of regulation. Hickey had three assists and two turnovers in 34 minutes. Chris Bass, who started at point guard, was scoreless with one assist in 12 minutes.

After shooting 52 percent (13-of-25) from the field in the first 20 minutes, LSU missed 20 of its 31 shots after halftime. Meanwhile, Tennessee made 60 percent of its field goal attempts (15-of-25) during the second half and overtime.

"We slacked on the defensive end," Hickey said. "They started knocking out shots. Defense wins and we started slacking toward the end."

The Tigers are tied with Ole Miss and Mississippi State for sixth place heading into Saturday's final regular season game. The Rebels will play host to Alabama, while the Bulldogs will play host to Arkansas. LSU would lose tiebreakers with both Ole Miss and Mississippi State.



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