LSU basketball fails to overcome slow start without star guard Jalen Cook, falls to No. 6 Tennessee

Playing without an injured Jalen Cook, Tennessee jumped on LSU early and the Tigers could not catch up even though Will Baker scored 16 points and Derek Fountain added 11. PHOTO By LSU Athletics

LSU got off to a slow start at No. 6 Tennessee and was never able to fully get back into the game in a convincing 88-68 win for the Volunteers.

Star guard Jalen Cook missed the game with a hamstring injury and Trae Hannibal got the start in his place for the second straight game.

Tennessee rushed out of the gates early on, scoring the first 13 points of the game and building a 15-1 lead before LSU made its first field goal of the game. LSU went on a 14-6 run to bring things to 15-21, but that was as close as LSU got to Tennessee in the first half.

Tennessee continued to pull away from LSU from that point on and would take a 50-27 lead into halftime.

“They were terrific in the first half, and we just had no answer on either end of the floor,” LSU head coach Matt McMahon said.

Tennessee looked like it would come away with an easy win after Zakai Zeigler assisted Jonas Aidoo to make it 70-47 with 9:09 left in the game. Zeigler would finish the game with nine assists and 17 points.

“[Zeigler] is a terrific point guard,” McMahon said. “We all know the importance and value of elite point guard play. You saw how he played Saturday in Lexington. He really carried that over tonight.”

However, LSU battled back and went on a 13-0 run sparked by Mwani Wilkinson to bring it back to 60-70.

Wilkinson scored nine points off three three-pointers during the run to make it a 10-point game. Wilkinson would finish the game without scoring again. He had nine total points on 43% shooting.

A Derek Fountain layup would cut the lead down to eight with 4:39 remaining, but it was too little too late for the Tigers.

Dalton Knecht was too much for the Tigers to handle as the 6-foot-6 guard put up 27 points with seven rebounds, six assists and three blocks. He scored crucial points down the stretch to stop LSU’s run.

Despite the lopsided score, LSU can still take away some positives form the performance. The Tigers outrebounded Tennessee 40-26 and had 18 offensive rebounds to the Volunteers’ five.

Turnovers and poor defense ultimately brought down LSU. The Tigers had 15 turnovers compared to Tennessee’s seven and shot just 24% from three. Their streak of five straight games with at least 10 three pointers came to an end as they made just six threes on the night. Four of those threes came during the late 13-0 run.

Tennessee’s offense couldn’t be stopped for most of the night as the Volunteers shot 55.4% from the field and 45.8% from three. They moved the ball well and ended the game with 23 total assists.

“When you look at Tennessee’s execution offensively, 23 assists, obviously shot the ball incredibly well from three in the first half,” McMahon said. “Their pressure really bothered us. We played the way we would like to play in the second half. We took care of the ball. We were organized offensively. We moved the ball. We took high quality shots. We were able to get our defense set, get some stops and work our way back in. We just didn’t have enough left in the tank there to get it closer than eight.”

Will Baker led the Tigers in scoring for the second straight game with 16 points while shooting 58% from the field. The only other LSU player with more than 10 points was Fountain with 11.

Jordan Wright, tied with Jalen Cook for most points per game on the team heading into the game, had just nine points and went 3-for-16 from the field and 1-for-7 from three. LSU finished the night shooting 41.4% from the field.

Up next, LSU will have a rematch with No. 16 Alabama this Saturday at 11 a.m. LSU will be looking to avenge its earlier loss to Alabama where it gave up 109 points.

author avatar
Will Nickel

1 Comment

  1. Again in the first half the Tigers turned the ball over without a shot way too much… plus missing FTs is painful…
    this was not Cook but a fatal flaw that needs working on!

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