Vols advance by holding Ragin’ Cajuns to season-low point total

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee senior forward Uros Plavsic shoots over Louisiana junior forward Jordan Brown during the early stages of Thursday night's 58-55 win by the Volunteers,

It was survive and advance Thursday night for the Tennessee Volunteers, with a heavy emphasis on the survive.

After building an 18-point lead on multiple occasions early in the second half, the fourth-seeded Vols held on for a 58-55 win over 13th-seeded Louisiana in an NCAA tournament East Region first-round matchup at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. The Ragin' Cajuns entered averaging 78.0 points per game but were held to a season low point total.

"It's like we've been at times this year. It's not very pretty, but we find a way to get it done," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said on the CBS broadcast. "Defensively, we were really good against a team that can really score the basketball. We didn't expect them to go away — not a team that won as many games as they did."

The Ragin' Cajuns used a 13-0 run to pull within 48-43 with 7:24 remaining, with a Kobe Julien 3-pointer forcing Barnes into calling a timeout. Jahmai Mashack scored four straight points to push Tennessee's advantage back up to nine at 54-45, and the sophomore guard drew a key charge with two minutes left.

A pair of Julien free throws with 23.1 seconds to play pulled Louisiana within 56-53, but Josiah-Jordan James made a free throw with 19.1 seconds left to make it a two-possession game, and Jalen Dalcourt badly missed a 3-point attempt to seal it.

Tyreke Key scored 12 points to lead the Vols (24-10), while Mashack added 11 and Uros Plavsic nine. Jordan Brown paced Louisiana (26-8) with a game-high 16, with Julien adding 15 and Dalcourt 11.

Tennessee will play tradition-rich Duke in Saturday afternoon's second round (2:40 on CBS), with the fifth-seeded Blue Devils quickly dispatching of 12th-seeded Oral Roberts 74-51 earlier Thursday evening.

"They're playing great basketball," Barnes said. "I think they've won like 18 out of 19, and (former Syrcause coach) Jim Boeheim has already said they're going to go all the way, so we've got a big matchup."

Plavsic, the former Hamilton Heights standout, got his first start since January and produced five points within the first three minutes to stake Tennessee to a 10-5 lead, but a Terrence Lewis layup at the 15:17 mark put the Ragin' Cajuns up 11-10 at the first media timeout.

Tennessee senior guard Santiago Vescovi picked up his second foul at the 12:38 mark of the first half, but it occurred in the middle of a 9-0 run by the Vols that was capped by a Mashack steal and layup that gave them a 19-11 lead with 10:50 before halftime.

Louisiana countered with eight straight points to tie the game at 19, but the Vols closed the half on an 11-0 surge that in the final minute contained an Olivier Nkamhuoa 3-pointer and a Plavsic basket just before the horn. Tennessee built its 30-19 lead at the break despite committing 12 turnovers, but the Vols outrebounded Louisiana 19-12 and held the Ragin' Cajuns to 29.6% shooting.

The Vols quickly extended their lead in the second half with dunks in the first six minutes by James, Jonas Aidoo and Nkamhoua that made it 43-25.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.