BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Seven points in the final eight minutes was enough for Tennessee to avoid being upset by LSU.
Wayne Chism scored 20 points and the 14th-ranked Volunteers kept the Tigers winless in the Southeastern Conference with a 59-54 victory Thursday night.
Tennessee (17-4, 5-2) weathered a late rally by the Tigers (9-13, 0-8) after leading 51-37 with eight minutes to play. The Volunteers made two field goals the rest of the way.
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“This game was a defensive struggle,” Pearl said. “But we have to play a lot better to win the upcoming games.”
The Vols’ next three games are at home against South Carolina, followed by road games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Bo Spencer scored nine points as the Tigers pulled to 55-54 with 17 seconds remaining. He finished with 25.
Bobby Maze sank two foul shots with 16 seconds left to give the Volunteers (5-2, 17-4) a three-point advantage.
“Bobby and Scotty stepping up and making free throws was huge,” Pearl said. “Offensively, we had some real empty possessions down the stretch.”
Tasmin Mitchell missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 6 seconds remaining for LSU. Scotty Hopson then clinched the victory with two foul shots for the Vols.
Chism was 9 for 15 from the floor and grabbed seven rebounds.
“Wayne was our most consistent offensive player and we just kept going to him,” Pearl said. “We did a good job on Tasmin. We wanted to limit his touches. Spencer played great. That’s a concern with South Carolina’s Devan Downey coming up Saturday.”
Mitchell finished with 13 points and 17 rebounds, but he was 4 of 12 from the field. The Tigers made 31 percent (18 of 59) of their field goal attempts.
“We just kept fighting and fighting,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump and give ourselves a margin of error so to speak. I’m pleased with the effort, but 0-8 is 0-8 and 9-13 is 9-13.”
Despite shooting 9 of 30 from the field, Tennessee took a double-digit lead into halftime. Baskets by J.P. Prince and Chism put the Volunteers on top 26-16.
Prince and Chism combined for 14 of Tennessee’s first-half points.
LSU shot even worse than the Vols in the opening 20 minutes. The Tigers made 24 percent (6 of 25) of their field goal attempts.
Tennessee went more than three minutes before scoring their first points on a 3-pointer by Melvin Goins. That basket ignited a 13-0 run which gave the Volunteers an eight-point advantage.
The Volunteers expanded their advantage in the first four minutes of the second half. With Maze and Hopson making 3-pointers, Tennessee moved ahead 36-24.
Mitchell made his first field goal of the night with 18:35 left in the game.
LSU reduced its deficit to 36-28 on two free throws by Aaron Dotson and a basket by Mitchell. The Vols then outscored the Tigers 7-2 to take their biggest lead of game at 43-30. Cameron Tatum had two field goals and a foul shot during that stretch.
A 3-pointer by Spencer again put LSU within eight points at 45-37.
But Tennessee answered with three straight field goals – two by Chism and one by Prince – to go on top by four.