Pregame incident 'set the tone' for Vols in win over LSU

Tennessee didn’t need the reminder. LSU gave the Vols one anyway.

Before Saturday night’s game even started, before the two teams were even fully on the floor, the two sides were already going at it.

The drama started early in pregame, when LSU players were on the floor at Thompson-Boling Arena getting up shots. An LSU staff member, who was working out one of his players on Tennessee’s end of the floor, began throwing basketballs into the stands once the Vols’ student managers started shooting on the goal.

Later, when both teams were on the court for warmups, both players and staff members from both sides had to be separated at midcourt after words continued to be exchanged.

“I think that definitely set the tone,” junior guard Santiago Vescovi said. “It was a reminder for us about how the game went at LSU and definitely helped us to start with a lot more energy and fight for ourselves.”

The early energy included a 14-0 run to start the game for No. 24 Tennessee and, on the defensive end, the kind of fight that shut out the 13th-ranked Tigers for over six minutes, with the Vols on their way to an emotional and physical 64-50 win.

Vescovi finished with 16 points, going 5-for-11 from the 3-point line, to go with six rebounds and five assists for Tennessee (13-5, 4-3 SEC). Uros Plavsic scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds of his own, while Kennedy Chandler finished with nine points and six assists.

Tari Eason had 16 points and six rebounds for LSU (15-4, 3-4) in 28 minutes before fouling out. Brandon Murray scored 15 and Eric Gaines scored 10.

“(LSU) wanted to win the fight,” Plavsic said after the game. “We wanted to win the basketball game.

“We did what we wanted to do. I think we did both actually.”

Tennessee was just two weeks removed from a 79-67 loss to LSU at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge. The Tigers led by as many as 20 points early in the second half. The largest lead for the Vols Saturday night was 19, at 64-45 with 1:40 left.

While Tennessee led 11-0 just under four minutes into the game on Saturday, and with the officials reviewing a foul on Plavsic at the scorers table, the ESPN broadcast showed a clip of the words being exchanged pregame between the two teams.

LSU associate head coach Bill Armstrong, assistant coach Tasmin Mitchell and director of player development Vernon Hamilton can all be seen on one side. On the Tennessee side, assistant coach Rod Clark, Plavsic, Chandler and freshman center Jonas Aidoo appeared to be exchanging words of their own, before strength coach Garrett Medenwald, director of operations Mary-Carter Eggert and other Vols separated the two sides.

“There is a line you’ve got to walk up to,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said afterward. “ … I thought our guys, we talked about it, what we have to do, the way we need to do it, within the rules of the game. We’re going to play hard, we’re going to play aggressive.”

The two teams had to be separated while leaving the court at halftime, too, with technical fouls issued to each side after more words were exchanged.

“At halftime, the two teams start going at it, they’re going to do exactly what they did,” Barnes said of the officials. “Whether one team said something or not, they’re going to call a double-technical foul. That’s how they’re going to do it. It’s just going to happen that way.

“I didn’t see either one, to be quite honest with you, because I was talking to one of the other referees at halftime, as we were going off the floor.”

Barnes wasn’t on the floor before the game when the two sides came together, but had been filled in on some of the details before starting his postgame press conference.

“I don’t know what happened before the game,” Barnes said. “I heard different things, where something happened with the manager throwing the ball into the stands, one of our guys said stop doing that. I don’t know the whole deal of it. Some people came together.”

Whatever happened, it brought the Vols together.

“Every team takes on personalities,” Barnes said. “Your opponents all have a different personality. You have to know what you’re dealing with when you go into a game, what you’re going to have to combat whatever that personality may be. Every game brings a different personality.

“From the get go (we) were locked in defensively, doing things we needed them to do. We can still get so much better.”