Wayne Chism scored 18 points and grabbed 15 rebounds before a frightening injury forced him out of No. 14 Tennessee’s 89-62 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette on Monday night.
With 5:12 left in the game, the team’s leading rebounder landed hard on his back under the basket after blocking a shot by La’Ryan Gary.
Play was delayed for several minutes as Chism was strapped to a board, placed in a neck brace and taken out of the arena on a stretcher. He wiggled his arms, fingers and legs before being strapped to the stretcher.
“He was conscious the whole time, but it took him a while to kind of figure out exactly where he was,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. “Chism had a terrific game, dominating inside and out.”
Chism, who is averaging 8.5 rebounds per game, was taken to a hospital for evaluation. Pearl said Chism hurt his back and neck but did not know the extent of the injuries.
The Volunteers (9-2) need Chism to anchor their interior game as they head into a seven-game stretch that includes contests against defending national champion Kansas, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Memphis.
Still, the solid win over Louisiana-Lafayette (4-7) helped build some needed confidence for the young Vols before heading into the heart of their schedule.
“We got a win tonight. I think it will help a lot, give us more confidence,” Tennessee guard Josh Tabb said. “We’re trying to get things going before heading into (Southeastern Conference) play.”
Tennessee got the boost it was looking for from strong play in transition, scoring 20 points on fast breaks and 31 points off 22 Ragin’ Cajuns turnovers.
“They came out very aggressive, got out in transition and we were not able to respond,” Louisiana-Lafayette coach Robert Lee said. “We did not get to the free-throw line at all. If you do not get to the line, you are going to have a difficult time winning, especially against a good team such as Tennessee.”
Tyler Smith added 10 points for the Vols.
Randell Daigle led Louisiana-Lafayette with 16 points, including 12 on 3-pointers. Lamar Roberson added 11.
The Vols looked at first as if they were having a hard time shaking off the rust from their nine-day holiday break as they traded the lead with Louisiana-Lafayette in the opening minutes.
Behind by a point two minutes into the game, Tennessee went on an 11-0 run with the help of fast-break layups by Smith, Brian Williams and Tabb to take a 17-7 lead with 14:12 left in the first half.
Daigle tried to keep the Ragin’ Cajuns close with three 3-pointers in a row, but the Vols slowly built their lead up to 15 points twice and entered halftime ahead 44-31.
Tennessee built on its lead after the break thanks to 48.8 percent shooting as Louisiana-Lafayette shot 37.9 percent from the field.
J.P. Prince, the Vols’ third-leading scorer, returned after sitting out games against Temple, Marquette and Belmont. He finished with eight points.
The Cajuns were again without leading scorer Travis Bureau, who was averaging 16.8 points per game before sustaining a groin injury.
“They’re really talented with a lot of big guys, but they’re beatable,” Daigle said. “We just didn’t play that well.”