KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — To be sure, lots of people wondered how the LSU men’s basketball team would respond after its heartbreaking, two-point loss to top-ranked and undefeated Kentucky on Tuesday night.
They didn’t have to wait long for an answer once LSU’s crucial Southeastern Conference matchup with Tennessee, which was coming off a huge overtime win at Vanderbilt, began Saturday in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Starting with five quick points by Keith Hornsby, including a 3-point shot, and another basket by Jordan Mickey, LSU bolted to a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the contest against an undersized Tennessee team.
That was merely a sign of things to come, however.
LSU (18-7, 7-5 SEC) thoroughly dominated Tennessee in rolling to an 11-point lead midway through the first half and never let the Vols get closer than that over the final 30 minutes in cruising to a 73-55 victory.
Facing a 2-3 matchup zone, LSU shot Tennessee (14-10, 6-6) out of its own gym in the first half en route to snapping a six-game losing streak against the Vols that dated to Jan. 2009.
Building off what Hornsby and Mickey did early, the Tigers went on to connect on 64.0 percent of their field-goal attempts — going 16-of-25 from the floor — to take a huge 47-20 halftime lead against the Vols.
“Coming into this game, the big question was how we would respond and bounce back from an emotional, close basketball game the other night,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “I thought our guys did a tremendous job and may have played our best first half of basketball all year.”
It would be difficult to argue with that, especially after LSU was 7-of-10 from 3-point range for 70.0 percent.
On the other side, Tennessee was making just eight of 26 shots for 30.8 percent, with leading scorer Josh Richardson being held to one field goal in six attempts and just four points in the first 20 minutes.
The Tigers did most of the damage after Jarell Martin went to the bench with his second foul at the 12:48 mark and his team holding an 11-8 lead. They wound up outscoring the Vols 36-12 the rest of the half.
“We were really prepared for this game,” LSU guard Tim Quarterman said. “Coming off a loss, we just wanted to bounce back on the road. We were real energetic at the beginning of the game on the offensive and defensive end. We made the extra pass to get some good looks.”
When they did, they knocked them down — including 3-pointers by Jalyn Patterson and Quarterman in the final 49 seconds of the half.
Meanwhile, Mickey had a lot to do with Tennessee’s offensive woes.
The SEC’s top shot-blocker had four in the first seven minutes of the game against a team that had only one player standing over 6 feet, 6 inches, and Mickey went on to tie his career high with seven in the game.
When he wasn’t blocking shots, the 6-8 Mickey was contesting shots and altering them when they tried to get to the rim.
“A little bit,” Mickey said when asked he affected Tennessee’s psyche. “Guys were looking for me a little bit more when they were driving to the basket. I’m pretty sure the scouting report said ‘shot-blocker,’ and guys were constantly looking for me. It might have thrown their shot off a little bit.”
Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall, a former LSU assistant, certainly noticed.
“I don’t usually discredit anything the opponent does, and I’m not going to because LSU made us be that bad, but that’s the worst half for any team I’ve ever coached in 10 years,” he said. “That first half, I can’t explain it.
“We missed about 10 layups. We played hesitant. We played nervous. We played scared. That falls on my shoulders. Mickey certainly dominated the game today.”
Mickey frustrated Tennessee with his seven blocks, but he also had a game-high 20 points and 11 rebounds. Hornsby had 16 points and seven assists, and Quarterman added 13 points and six assists as LSU finished with 18 assists on 25 made field goals.
“We were just clicking, plain and simple,” said Hornsby, who was 3-of-5 from beyond the 3-point line in the first half and 4-of-9 in the game. “We practiced a lot against that zone, and our rotations were perfect.
“It seemed like we knew where our teammates were no matter where we were on the court, and we gave them good looks.”
After LSU made a free throw to start the second half and build its lead to 28, Tennessee came back with a 13-0 run when the Tigers got a little too cautious with the ball and got sloppy.
But that was as close as the Vols, who got 16 points from Armani Moore and 15 from Richardson, would get.
The 18-point victory matched the largest on the road in Jones’ three seasons as coach. The Tigers also won by 18 at Florida on Jan. 20 and beat South Carolina by the same margin in 2013.
“Coming off the Kentucky game, there were a lot of great things to take away from that, even though we lost,” Hornsby said. “So we came in here pretty thrilled and ready to play. It certainly showed, especially in the first half.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.