Tyreke Key scored 12 points and Tennessee led by as many as 18 points before escaping with a 58-55 victory over Louisiana on Thursday night in an NCAA Tournament East Region first-round game at Orlando, Fla.
Jahmai Mashack added 11 points for the fourth-seeded Volunteers (24-10), who won for just the sixth time in their past 13 games. Tennessee will face fifth-seeded Duke (27-8) in the second round on Saturday.
Jordan Brown recorded 16 points and seven rebounds and Kobe Julien added 15 points for 13th-seeded Louisiana (26-8), which had a five-game winning streak end. Jalen Dalcourt scored 11 points and Themus Fulks had 11 assists for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Julien made two free throws with 23.1 seconds remaining as Louisiana crept within 56-53. Tennessee’s Josiah-Jordan James split two free throws with 19.1 seconds left, and Julian Phillips made 1 of 2 with 7.4 seconds to play as the Volunteers held on.
“I don’t think (they’re) ever going to go away,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said of the Ragin’ Cajuns. “You don’t win as many games as they did. You don’t expect them to go away, but we make a couple blunders that you can’t make. The fact is we found a way to finish it.”
Tennessee committed 18 turnovers and shot 45.7 percent from the field, including just 4 of 16 from 3-point range.
The Ragin’ Cajuns connected on 40 percent of their shots and were 6 of 18 from behind the arc.
Louisiana trailed 48-30 before Julien scored 11 points during a 13-0 burst. He made two 3-pointers to start the run, later drove for a layup and finished the spurt with a trey to bring the Ragin’ Cajuns within 48-43 with 7:29 remaining.
The margin was again five before Mashack scored four points in 34 seconds during a time in which Louisiana went four minutes without a point.
Dalcourt ended the drought with a 3-pointer to pull the Ragin’ Cajuns within 54-48 with 2:37 left. He nailed another trey as Louisiana cut the Volunteers’ lead to 56-51 with 1:08 left.
Tennessee led 19-11 near the midway point of the first half before the Ragin’ Cajuns rattled off eight straight, tying it on Brown’s basket with 4:43 left.
The Volunteers then rolled off the final 11 points of the half to lead 30-19 at the break.
Brown had 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the half for Louisiana while his teammates were a combined 3 of 19.
Tennessee remained hot at the outset of the second half and took a 39-23 advantage on Jonas Aidoo’s dunk with 15:27 left.
Key buried a 3-pointer to make it an 18-point lead with 12 minutes left before the Ragin’ Cajuns began their frantic dash.
–Field Level Media