Cauble: Simmons \"Underestimated\" by others
NASHVILLE, TENN. – LSU’s quest for a Southeastern Conference Tournament title finally begins on Friday at approximately 2:30 p.m. here at the Bridgestone Arena as LSU meets Tennessee in the second of four quarterfinal matchups.
Tennessee, the 12th seed, easily won on Wednesday night over Auburn (97-59) and then the Vols built a big lead on No. 5 seed Vanderbilt Thursday and survived an end-of-game buzzer review of a Vandy bucket that could have forced overtime to win, 67-65
LSU enters as the fourth seed for the second straight year with an 11-7 record in the league. For the second straight year, LSU tied for third in the league standings. The Tigers are 18-13 overall.
Tennessee is now 15-18 on the year. The Volunteers finished 6-12 in league play.
The game will be televised by the SEC Network with Brad Nessler, Sean Farnham and Shannon Spake on the call with Jim Hawthorne, Ricky Blanton and host Kevin Ford all on site for the LSU Sports Radio Network broadcast (Eagle 98.1 FM the Baton Rouge flagship affiliate).
LSU failed to advance from the quarterfinal game a year ago, losing to Auburn, 73-70 in overtime. The Tigers allowed Auburn to hit a three with less than a second remaining in regulation to force the extra session. But LSU has won its first game, no matter the round, 18 times in the 37 years since the renewal.
It was announced earlier Thursday that senior guard Keith Hornsby did not make the trip after a season-ending medical procedure for the internal injury that was reinjured in the Tennessee game in Knoxville on Feb. 20.
“We certainly wanted him to go through the process and let the doctors do their due diligence and after their findings they thought it was best to go ahead and get a procedure done so he could start preparing for his professional career,” said LSU Coach Johnny Jones. “They (the doctors) did not think he could get back to the level he needed to provide us what he had been giving us over the last two years. He met with the doctors on Monday and had the procedure on Tuesday.”
LSU arrived in Nashville on Wednesday night and practiced twice on Thursday – once early Thursday morning in the Arena and then an hour practice at Lipscomb University where the team worked on sets of the potential opponents.
“The team just has to make sure they are focused and our eye is on our opponent,” said Jones. “… We’ve played both these teams before so it will nothing new for us. We certainly have to be playing at another level and that’s what is going to be key for us (Friday) at 2:30. Anything you get to the conference tournament, I think everyone is playing at another level and we have to raise our level as well. Guys need to certainly be sitting on edge especially without the services of (Hornsby) and what he has been able to provide. You have to have guys that are sitting there waiting on an opportunity to get out there and play and preform at the level that we need this part of the year. Guys should be chomping at the bit waiting on opportunities.”
The Tigers and Volunteers met on Feb. 20 in Knoxville in the game Hornsby was injured and Tennessee took control of the game, 81-65, at Thompson-Boling Arena. Ben Simmons led LSU with 21 points and nine rebounds, making 9-of-16 field goals and 3-of-7 free throws. Simmons had just two assists in the game. Antonio Blakeney had 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting with two treys.
LSU shot 40.3 percent in the game (25-of-62), while Tennessee was 31-of-63 (49.2 percent). The Vols shot just 34.4 percent in the opening 20 minutes, despite a 31-25 halftime advantage, but then posted 20-of-31 shots in the second half (64.5%) as Tennessee scored 50 second half points. Robert Hobbs III lead Tennessee with 19 points, while Armani Moore scored 17 with 7 assists. Shembari Phillips had 13 and Detrick Mostella 10 points.
The Nashville LSU Alumni Association put on a pep rally Thursday night for the Tigers, coaches and fans as LSU looked forward to the challenge ahead and the ultimate goal.
“We look forward to hopefully having the opportunity to be playing on Sunday at the end of the day in the championship game,” said Jones.
In Tennessee’s win on Wednesday night, Moore had 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting, with Detrick Mostella getting 17 and Devon Baulkman 16 points.
In the Vandy squeaker, Mostella had 17 points, Moore 14 and Admiral Schofield 12 to lead the Vols. Tennessee had a huge 17-5 advantage over Vanderbilt in turnovers.
LSU and Tennessee have met 10 times in the Southeastern Conference Tournament with Tennessee having a 7-3 advantage. The teams last met in the tournament in the first round of the 2010 tournament at Bridgestone Arena with Tennessee a 59-49 winner over the Tigers.
LSU is led by Simmons, who is averaging 19.6 points a game, 11.9 rebounds and 5.0 assists. Blakeney has raised his average 3.0 points in the last nine games to 12.5 points a game. In that time period, the freshman has averaged 19.76 points a game.
Simmons was chosen earlier this week as the SEC Freshman of the Year and the national Freshman of the Year by Sporting News and USA Today. Blakeney and Simmons were both on the All-SEC Freshman team.
The Tigers lineup of late has also had Craig Victor II (12.0 ppg) at forward with Jalyn Patterson (5.1 ppg) and Tim Quarterman (11.1 ppg).
Moore leads Tennessee with an average of 12.4 points a game with Hobbs III at 10.3 points per game.
The Tigers with a win Friday would advance to semifinal Saturday at noon against the winner of the Florida-Texas A&M game that will precede the LSU-Tennessee game on Friday.