Thornton leads LSU to road win vs. Tennessee

Published 12:17 am Thursday, January 29, 2009

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — LSU’s Marcus Thornton more than made up for giving away last season’s game to Tennessee.

Thornton scored 29 points to lead LSU to a 79-73 win over Tennessee on Wednesday night.

‘‘This is the best win we have had all year long, no question,’’ LSU coach Trent Johnson said.

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LSU (16-4, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) held a 14-point lead with 12:44 left, but Tennessee scored the next 13 points to pull within one point. With 4:44 left, Josh Tabb kicked the ball out to a wide-open Wayne Chism at the top of the arc, and he knocked down a 3 to give the Vols a 69-67 lead.

Thornton followed with a layup to tie it at 69. The teams would again tie at 71, but Thornton was fouled by Tabb as he hit a jumper. He hit the subsequent free throw to take a 74-71 lead with 2:06 left.

‘‘Poise and composure were important, especially when they made a run and it got really loud,’’ Johnson said.

The Vols (12-7, 3-2) missed three shots trying to regain the lead and began fouling with 1 minute left, but the Tigers hit five final free throws.

‘‘This ranks right there at the top of disappointments I have experienced,’’ Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said.

Bo Spencer added 15 points for LSU. Chris Johnson had 14 points and 14 rebounds, and Tasmin Mitchell had 10 points.

LSU entered the game scoring 75.7 points per game, but the Tigers have averaged 82 points in their last four SEC matchups.

It was Thornton whose turnover led to JaJuan Smith’s winning basket with 11 seconds left in Tennessee’s 47-45 win at Baton Rouge last season.

LSU scored the first four points and used a 7-1 run, sparked by four points from Thornton, to take an 11-3 lead with 16:23 left in the first half. The Tigers were in total control of the first half, shooting 56.7 percent from the field.

A 3-point shot by Spencer gave the Tigers a 26-16 lead with 11:19 left before the break.

Tennessee used free throws to trim LSU’s lead to five points eight times in the last 10 minutes of the first half, but couldn’t get any closer. A Tyler Smith layup with 11 seconds left cut the Tigers’ lead to 43-38 at halftime.

Chism led Tennessee with 19 points, and Emmanuel Negedu added a career-high 11.

Each time LSU threatened to put the game away, the Vols drew fouls and used free throws to stay close. Tennessee went 21-for-26 at the stripe (80.8 percent).

‘‘We came back and had it going pretty good, but then they came right back at us,’’ Negedu said. ‘‘I don’t really know what to say other than give them credit. They made plays.’’