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Tennessee Volunteers struggle to opening victory in SEC basketball tournament

NASHVILLE — Tennessee was arguably the hottest team in the league entering this week's SEC tournament, but the Vols had to fight for their lives for a good portion of Thursday's first-round game against LSU.

The No. 15 Vols (24-7) went 2-of-8 from the field in the opening nine minutes, trailed by as many as seven and scored just 21 first-half points before finally pulling away for a 59-49 victory.

"It wasn't a thing of beauty, but it is called survive and advance," UT coach Bruce Pearl said.

Tennessee plays Mississippi in today's second round.

Pearl said Tennessee's 71-69 overtime win at home against the then-No. 21 Rebels was one of his team's toughest wins.

LSU (11-20) had its chances. With the score tied at 30 and 16:06 remaining, the Vols went on a 16-4 run.

"It was a momentum swing," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "Our margin of error, we don't have a margin of error."

LSU pulled within 54-49 with 1:04 remaining but couldn't get any closer. Tennessee shot just 37 percent from the field, 17.4 percent on 3-pointers, but held LSU to its lowest point total of any SEC opponent this season.

Wayne Chism led the Vols with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

"That's the type of game they wanted to play, and we knew that," Tennessee forward J.P. Prince said. "We were a little rusty. This can be good for us. When your offense isn't working, it makes you pick up your defense. They weren't scoring either, so as long as they aren't scoring, that means your defense is working. And coaches always say, defenses win championships."

'BAMA 68, SOUTH CAROLINA 63: The Tide (17-14) overcame an 18-point deficit against the Gamecocks (15-16).

Alabama, which shot just 30 percent from the field in the first half, relied on a 26-5 run to take a 60-59 lead on a layup by Tony Mitchell with 2:07 to play. South Carolina was hampered by nine second half turnovers. Guard Devan Downey ended his career with 21 points and eight rebounds.

"We played to hang on," Downey said. "We didn't play to extend the lead and keep the intensity. "

"We just wanted to win the style-of-play game," said Tide guard Mikhail Torrance, who had a team-high 17 points. "The first half got away from us a little bit. We knew the second half, it was going to come down to our style of play. Their shots were coming up short, and that's when I knew we had them and we just had to continue to execute down the stretch."

Alabama's reward for winning? It faces No. 1 seed Kentucky today.

georgia 77, arkansas 64: Trey Thompkins had 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulldogs (14-16). Georgia took a 43-32 lead immediately after halftime on a three-point play by Jeremy Price. The Bulldogs had 16 offensive rebounds, nine more than Arkansas, and turned them into 19 second-chance points. Mike Washington scored 20 for the Razorbacks and Courtney Fortson added 16.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Tennessee Volunteers struggle to opening victory in SEC basketball tournament 03/11/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 12, 2010 6:25pm]
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