But, the Volunteers certainly seemed to have ironed things out as they opened Southeastern Conference play with a convincing 68-50 victory against LSU on Tuesday.
Tennessee, which has won four games in a row since those two December defeats, took the lead for good eight minutes into the game. With 2½ minutes before halftime, the Vols had a double-digit lead which they maintained the rest of the game. Tennessee had a 20-point advantage with a minute to play.
“We’re holding each other accountable more in the last few games,” said Jordan McRae, who scored a game-high 19 points. “We are playing with a lot of energy right now. This game on the road was huge for us. It really feels good winning on the road.”
Jarnell Stokes accounted for 15 points and 15 rebounds in registering the 25th double-double of his career. Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, the Vols’ two post players, made sure LSU made no second-half rally. In the second half, Stokes and Maymon combined for 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Tennessee (10-4) was able to take control of the game in the first half thanks to its perimeter shooting. Antonio Barton and McRae made all six of their 3-point shots in the opening 20 minutes. Barton, who had made just 18 3-pointers in the first 13 games, was 4-of-4 from behind the arc in the first half.
“In the first half, we started off hot,” Barton said. “We cooled down in the second half, but we still played defense. Coach (Cuonzo Martin) told us before the game that it is about ups and downs and going through adversity.”
Tennessee held LSU to a season-low in points and field goal percentage. The Tigers made just 37 percent (22-of-60) from the field, including 14 percent (2-of-14) on 3-pointers.
“Our guys were locked in and they did a great job of paying attention to detail,” Martin said. “When our big guys are aggressive and in attack mode, we are in good shape. When our guards are making shots from the perimeter, we are really a tough team to beat.”
LSU (9-4) had only two players in double-figure scoring. Jordan Mickey had 14 points, while Johnny O’Bryant III chipped in with 11. Senior guard Andre Stringer failed to score a point for the first time in his career.
“Tonight’s effort is something that we’re going to have to correct,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “We’ve allowed guys to get minutes. We’ve just got to make sure that all of that is earned. We didn’t compete at the level we needed to have an opportunity against a team the caliber of Tennessee.”
Tennessee used smothering defense and red-hot 3-point shooting to take a 38-24 halftime lead. LSU made just 34 percent (11-of-32) of its first half shots. Meanwhile, the Volunteers made seven first-half shots from behind the arc — four by Barton.
Tennessee took the lead for good at 15-12 on a D’Montre Edwards 3-pointer with 11:58 remaining in the first half. The Vols pulled away in the final seven minutes of the opening half when they outscored the Tigers 18-4. All of those Tennessee points came from its perimeter players.
Barton made three of his four 3-pointers in that stretch. McRae made two baskets, including a 3-pointer, and Josh Richardson made two field goals. The only LSU points during that time came on field goals by O’Bryant and Mickey.
The Volunteers protected their double-digit lead throughout the second half. In the first eight minutes after halftime, LSU cut its deficit to a dozen points on three occasions. Each time, Tennessee answered with a basket — twice by Stokes.