The start of a New Year means the start of Southeastern Conference play for the LSU men’s basketball team.
LSU, the defending SEC regular season champs, opens the season on the road Saturday when it travels to Thompson-Boling Arena to take on Tennessee in an 11 a.m. CT game.
The contest will be broadcast on ESPNU with Beth Mowins and Sean Farnham on the call while the LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates will broadcast the game with the Voice of the Tigers Chris Blair and former Tiger head coach John Brady (Eagle 98.1 FM, the Guaranty Media flagship in Baton Rouge).
Ten of the 14 teams are opening conference play Saturday to allow an open date in league play for those teams later in January for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Ironically, after playing the last conference game to start in 2019 on the final playing date, the Tigers by two hours will play the first conference game of 2020 against Tennessee.
The two teams played a classic in Baton Rouge last year with LSU knocking off the Vols, 82-80, on last second free throws in overtime. Tremont Waters did not play in that game and Javonte Smart, in the position he now occupies at point guard, scored 29 points for LSU.
Tennessee still leads the series, 65-47, but the teams have split the last eight meetings. LSU’s last win in Thompson-Boling Arena came in 2015.
Like LSU, Tennessee is 8-4 on the season. The Vols have lost three of their last four games including to No. 13 Memphis, at Cincinnati and most recently a 68-48 loss to Wisconsin in Knoxville.
LSU got back on the winning track Sunday with a 74-57 win over undefeated Liberty in its last game. The Tigers had very balanced scoring in that game with Darius Days getting 14 points with Skylar Mays and Charles Manning Jr., scoring 12 each. Javonte Smart had 11 points and six assists.
Jordan Bowden leads Tennessee in scoring at 12.9 points a game. John Fulkerson averages 11.6 points and Yves Pons 11.2. The Vols are missing Lamonte Turner, who averaged 12.3 points and had 78 assists for 11 games before announcing on Dec. 21 that he was ending his Tennessee playing career due to thoracic outlet syndrome.
LSU returns home for two SEC games next week – Wednesday against Arkansas (8 p.m. ESPNU) and Saturday (Jan. 11) against Mississippi State (7 p.m. ESPN/2). Both games will be broadcast on the LSU Sports Radio Network. Tickets for the game will be available during the week during normal office hours at the LSU Athletics Ticket Office and online at LSUTix.net.
Coach Will Wade met with the media prior to the team’s departure and here are some of his comments:
On how he feels heading into SEC play…
“We’ll see. We have to be able to keep it going. I feel like we’ve found a good formula, but can we sustain it on the road? Can we sustain it against even more resistance than we’ve gotten? Can we sustain it against the physicality of Tennessee? That’s what we’ll find out on Saturday.”
On how the team played against Liberty…
“We played well. The ball moved. Our players moved. We had good spacing. We had good pace. We screened well. Like I said, we’ve got to sustain it and do it at even a higher level than we did it against Liberty.”
On what goes in to finding a closer…
“Some of it’s a learned skill, but some of it’s who you are every day and what you do every day. We’re working on that. Like I said, I’ve got to put our guys who are our closers in better positions. We’ve got to have some different things. We’ve got to have some different wrinkles late in the game and I think we’ve gone about addressing that.”
On Trendon Watford’s improved rebounding numbers and what it means for the team…
“It’s huge. He’s playing harder. He’s got a nose for the ball. He’s going to get the ball. He had that little spurt there in the Liberty game. He played well against Southern Cal. He’s coming on and now we’ve got to keep him consistent and keep him hungry and keep him urgent and keep him moving along the same path. He’s certainly coming into his own and is playing quite a bit better.”
On how Javonte Smart has settled in to being the team’s point guard…
“He’s getting better. He’s learning. It’s a delicate balance. There’s a give and take. He hasn’t played point guard before. It’s a delicate balance that he’s figuring out. I think he’s got a much better feel for it now than he did two weeks ago than he did two months ago. I think in another two weeks, he’ll have a better feel than he does now. He’s certainly progressing and moving in the right direction.”
On the SEC being wide open going into conference play…
“It’s wide open. It will be who can execute, who can stay grounded, who can stay focused, who can stay hungry, who can stay disciplined for the longest amount of time.”
On who Tennessee returns off of last year’s team…
“They have some guys back. (John) Fulkerson’s a good player. (Yves) Pons has moved into a good role. (Jordan) Bowden was a good player for them. They’ve got some guys back. The way they play and as physical and tough as they are, they’re always going to be very, very good just because of how well coached they are and their style of play.”
(Press Release Provided by LSU Athletics)