Tennessee – 58
Louisiana – 55
ORLANDO, Fla. – Tennessee traveled to the magic kingdom for the first round of the NCAA Tournament hoping for a fairytale ending. The Vols were going to need production from their entire cast of characters with Zakai Zeigler out rehabbing his knee. This caused a lot of people to look at this matchup as a potential upset pick when filling out brackets this week. Tennessee had their work cut out for them to prove those doubters wrong and bust some brackets.
Tennessee jumped out to a 7-2 lead early on with offensive production that was a great sign for all the orange-clad supporters. Tennessee seemed go be off to a good start before allowing the Ragin’ Cajuns to take a 11-10 lead with 15:00 to play. Both teams traded runs, first with Tennessee jumping out to a 19-11 lead followed by Louisiana tying the game at 19. The defense was playing well as usual with this Volunteers team but the offense after a good start, had slowed down due to turnovers that were hurting the Vols immensely and allowing Louisiana to stay in the game. Now it was once again Tennessee’s turn for a run. With four minutes to go the Vols began to take control. Louisiana did not score again for the rest of the half shooting just 29% from the floor. Tennessee ended the half on an 11-0 run to take a 30-19 lead into the locker room after a last second tip-in on an inbounds lob by Uros Plavsic who was having a strong outing. Continued success from players like Plavsic, Key and Nkamhoua was going to be crucial to the survival of Tennessee in the NCAA tournament with Zakai Zeigler sidelined.
Tennessee started the second half with the same energy that they ended the first, turning defense into offense and getting good looks to fall. With 13:49 remaining in the game Nkamhoua sored through the air for a massive putback dunk to give Tennessee an 18 point lead.
O was flying ✈️
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) March 17, 2023
Tennessee was getting the production they needed from players like Key and Nkamhoua and Tennessee was in the drivers seat. Halfway through the second period, the Vols had decreased their turnover rate from 12 in the first half to just one in 10 minutes. The game was far from over however, as the Ragin’ Cajuns went on an 13-0 run to make it a 5-point game with seven minutes to play. It was the final push Louisiana needed and Tennessee couldn’t withstand the offensive onslaught and found themselves in a scoring drought of over four minutes. Those kinds of lapses cannot happen in the big dance or you’ll be sent home.
The Vols would have to survive the last seven minutes with a five-point lead. A pinpoint pass from Josiah-Jordan James to Jonas Aidoo finally broke the run and the drought. With 6:15 to play Santiago Vescovi had just three shots and three points. The Vols would need him down the stretch. Just like the rest of the game had gone, Tennessee turned the tables and went on a run of tier own. It was short lived as the offense stalled once again. A three from Louisiana’s Jalen Dalcourt cut the Tennessee lead to just six with 2:46 to play. At 1:20 Tennessee held a 56-48 lead and would have to withstand the final assault from Louisiana. A three to cut it to 56-51 was not the start the Vols needed. Two free throws brought Louisiana within three with 23 seconds to play. It was going to take composure and minimizing mistakes for Tennessee to survive. Jordan-James was fouled with 19 seconds to play. James missed the first but made the all important second to make it a four point game. Philips went 1/2 from the line after missed three and Tennessee had a 58-53 lead. Louisiana made a layup as time expired, but it was not enough as Tennessee moved on to the second round with a final score of 58-55
Jordan Brown led all scorers with 16 points. Tyreke Key led Tennessee with 12. Brown also led all players with seven rebounds, while Olivier Nkamhoua led Tennessee with five. Themus Fulks led all players with 11 rebounds, and Santiago Vescovi led Tennessee with four.
This is what Tennessee Head Coach, Rick Barnes, had to say post-game via Rocky Top Insider on Twitter:
Tennessee HC Rick Barnes: I can’t say enough about these two guys here (Tyreke Key and Jahmai Mashack)… Jahmai has been a big part, even before Zakai went out, he found his niche and he’s not afraid to guard anyone.
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) March 17, 2023
Tennessee’s next opponent will be Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.