Summation: The game was not pretty. Highlight was determination. Officials couldn’t find their whistles and allowed the early minutes to be a war. Tennessee maintained composure, built an 18-point lead and looked like a run-away winner.
Louisiana came alive. The Ragin’ Cajuns almost recovered from the massive deficit. Tennessee survived long scoreless periods and finally escaped, 58-55, in the Orlando version of the NCAA tournament. It gets to play (or has to play) Duke on Saturday afternoon. Duke is one of the hottest teams in the country.
Rick Barnes said he’s been rather busy with other things and hasn’t thought much about the Blue Devils but he heard former Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim say they’re going to win the national championship.
“They’re playing great basketball. I think they’ve won 10 in a row, 18 out of 19. We got a big matchup.”
Sorry about that. Barnes just got back to even as a tournament coach, 26-26.
Of course, he still believes in his defense.
“We just really believe if we can guard to the best of our ability and rebound the ball, we’ll find a way – it’s not always pretty – to win.”
Tennessee double- and triple-teamed Louisiana 6-11 superstar Jordan Brown. Teammates had a difficult time getting the ball to him. Brown scored 16 and claimed seven rebounds.
Louisiana trailed 30-19 at halftime and did not attempt a three-point shot. Reserves Kobe Julien and Jalen Dalcourt opened fire after intermission, combined for six and led the comeback.
The two halves were very different. Tennessee’s defense was outstanding in the first 20 minutes. Jahmai Mashack wouldn’t let Themus Fulks run the offense. Louisiana hit 29 percent.
Louisiana hit 50 percent after intermission. It hit six of 12 three-pointers. Tennessee missed eight free throws and made the finish tighter than it had to be.
The Vols got balanced scoring – 12 from Tyreke Key, 11 from Mashack, nine from Uros Plavic (four of five field-goal attempts and a surprising free throw) and eight points each from Josiah-Jordan James and Olivier Nkamhoua.
Santiago Vescovi delivered a shocking three points. He had first-half foul trouble. Louisiana doubled him when he had the ball.
Barnes said he wasn’t surprised by Louisiana’s rally.
“It was the kind of game we expected. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game.”
The coach was surprised by Tennessee’s 12 turnovers in the first half. He told the team some were ridiculous.
“We can’t turn the ball over the way we did and our guys know that. They took the ball away from us. You’ve got to give them credit for some of those.”
Barnes went zone for a few minutes and helped Mashack disrupt the Ragin’ Cajuns’ offense.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected]