By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
The air conditioning wasn’t the only thing broken in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center Wednesday night.
LSU snapped a 15-game losing streak — the longest in program history — with an 92-82 win over Tennessee, fueled by Brandon Sampson’s efficiency, Jalyn Patterson’s moxy, timely defensive stops, and the PMAC’s balmy conditions.
“Every day we’re taking steps, taking steps,” said Sampson, who hit 11-of-12 from the line. “It felt good to finally put it together.”
Sampson matched a career high with 24 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Patterson added a career-high 22 points, including an improbable floater, a three-point dagger, and plenty of free throws in the final three minutes. And the Tigers outscored Tennessee 50-36 in the second half to pick up their second conference win.
“It was kinda crazy,” said Patterson, who knocked down 3-of-4 from deep. “We ain’t got a win in a little while. So everybody was happing, everybody was smiling. It was a totally different locker room.”
An 18-5 start to the second half propelled the Tigers to victory, as LSU’s often-leaky defense held the Volunteers scoreless for four critical minutes, without a field goal for 8:20, and to just a single field goal over a 14 minute span.
“We may only show film for 14 minutes tomorrow,” Johnny Jones cracked.
Trailing by double figures with less than eight minutes to go, Tennessee extended its pressure to full court. But Brandon Eddlestone, who started on Senior Night along fellow vet Brian Bridgewater, found Antonio Blakeney streaking down the left wing for a layup, then tipped in an errant Duop Reath free throw for a 76-62 lead at the six minute mark.
The Vols cut the deficit to nine with less than four minutes to go. That’s when Patterson added a critical floater as the shot clock expired and followed suit with a three a minute later to ice the result. It was a masterful outing from the junior point guard, who contributed nearly half of LSU’s 49 bench points.
“Tonight was one of the better games of his career,” Jones said of Patterson. “He played like a senior, like it was his last time out. He was really aggressive and did a great job of controlling the game when he was in there.”
The first half was a back-and-forth affair, with Tennessee a nose in front but LSU never far behind. The hosts led for just 57 seconds; the visitors, 14:14. Both teams relied on balanced attacks for the opening 20 minutes. Eight Volunteers scored 46 points, while nine Tigers combined for 42 on 50 percent shooting. Patterson was a spark, reaching double figures for the first time since January 4th — a win at Missouri — before the break. Kieran Hayward knocked down his first shot since January 7 against Mississippi State, the first loss of the streak and his first make in 14 attempts.
The second half spelled the difference. LSU outshot Tennessee 50 to 27 percent over the last 20 minutes to grab its first win in eight weeks and to avoid becoming the first SEC team since Alabama in 1968-69 to win just a single conference game.
After 56 days of frowns, an evening of smiles.
“These guys have done a great job of showing character throughout the whole ordeal,” Jones said of his players. “They’ve responded the right way. Unfortunately it didn’t reflect in the win column for us, but I can tell you they were passing the test. They were rewarded tonight. They chose not to give up. They chose to fight.”