Tigers Blow a Huge Lead But Hang On for a 57-54 Win Over Tennessee to Clinch the #2 Seed in the SEC Tournament
Da Boot Sports
By: Terrill J. Weil
KNOXVILLE, TN - LSU rolled into Knoxville where they haven't won since 2014 looking for a win to clinch the #2 seed in next week's SEC Tournament. LSU played outstanding ball throughout most of the contest leading by double digits most of the day and holding a lead as large as 18 points. But Tennessee never quit, battling back in the fourth period to pull to within two points, 56-54 with :33 seconds left in the contest. The Lady Tigers would hold on escaping with a 57-54 victory.
“This group, I’ll tell you – I don’t know when it’s going to end, but they just grind and they just find ways to win,” LSU Head Coach Kim Mulkey said. “The most important thing is how we started the game,” Coach Mulkey added. “Confident. Shot the ball good, but defended good as well. I thought the only way we could come in here and win under some circumstances out of our control was if we rebounded the ball.”
The Lady Tigers raced out of the gate to take a 10-2 lead over the first four minutes as you could see LSU was focused and ready to play.
LSU remained relentless on both ends of the floor, especially defensively as they forced six first period turnovers helping the Lady Tigers go on a 12-8 run to hold a 22-10 lead at the end of the period.
The Ben-Gals held Tennessee without a basket over the final five minutes of the first period as the Lady Vols only managed three free throws during that period.
LSU continued to play at a high level to start the second period going on a 7-1 run to extend their lead to 29-11 with 7:33 left to go in the first half.
Thirteen seconds later Jordan Walker would hit a three pointer for the Vols. It was the first field goal for Tennessee since the 5:10 mark of the first period.
Walker's basket woke the Lady Vols up as they would go on a 9-2 run over the next five minutes to cut the LSU lead to 31-20 at the 2:41 mark.
But the Lady Tigers would remain in control, outscoring Tennessee 5-2 over the final two minutes to take a 36-22 lead into the locker room at the half.
LSU shot 49% from the floor going 17-35 while hitting 2-5 three pointers for 40%. Autumn Newby and Jailin Cherry both led the team with 10 points each. Kayla Pointer and Ryann Payne both scored 7 points each and Faustine Aifuwa added two.
Tennessee began the third period outscoring LSU 8-4 over the first four minutes cutting the Ben-Gals lead to ten, 40-30 with 6:25 left on the clock.
With :56 second left, the Lady Vols would pull to within single digits when Tamari Key sank two free throws cutting the lead to 44-36 to end the third period.
LSU scored the first two baskets of the final period to extend their lead to twelve, 48-36 quieting the crowd down at the 8:10 mark.
Over the next four minutes the game turn into a see-saw battle, but LSU would do just enough to hold on to a double digits advantage, leading 56-45 with 4:09 left in the contest.
The Lady Tigers committed two costly turnovers against the Lady Vols full court press to allow Tennessee to pull to
within seven, 56-49 at the 2:33 mark.
Tennessee cut the lead to four, 56-52 with 1:37 to go thanks to a 11-0 run. Khayla Pointer ended up on the free throw line and missed both attempts giving the Lady Vols another opportunity and Rae Burrell cashed in, sinker a jumper to pull her team to within two, 56-54 with :33 seconds left.
With :25 seconds left, LSU had not scored a basket in the last six minutes and had turned the ball over seven times over the last five minutes.
Khayla Pointer sank one of two free throw attempts putting LSU up by three, 57-54 with three seconds remaining, then Pointer would steal the inbounds pass to clinch the victory over a tough Tennessee team.
Jailin Cherry led the team in scoring as well as finishing with a double-double, 14 points and 10 rebounds. Khayla Pointer finished with a double-double also scoring 12 points while grabbing 14 rebounds. Autumn Newby scored 12 points, while Ryann Payne added 7 points and Faustine Aifuwa and Hannah Gusters both finished with 6 points each.
With the win, LSU finishes the regular season 25-4 overall (13-3 SEC) and clinches the 2nd seed in the SEC Tournament.