Devan Downey? He got 26 points, but half of them came at the free throw line, shooting 5 of 20 from the floor. The rest of the team? They got 27.
Wayne Chism? He beat Downey head-to-head, finishing 11 of 17 from the floor, 6 of 8 at the line, 2 of 4 from CHI$$LE! for a career high 30. The rest of the Vols? They added 49, including 11 each from Scotty Hopson and Bobby Maze, and the Vols rolled Carolina by 26 points.
On a night with a lot of things to be worried about coming in - quick turnaround, frustrating play at times in the last two weeks, a general sense that these new Vols had peaked, plus Downey - Tennessee was firing on all cylinders. The Vols beat Carolina in every statistical category - +8 in rebounds, +6 in turnovers forced, +20 in bench points, + 10 in assists - and used both Chism's offense and an outstanding team defensive effort to never let Carolina threaten. The Gamecocks shot only 27.6% from the floor, and the Vols forced them to settle for mostly outside shots (only 7 for 28). Tennessee didn't allow Downey to go off, and didn't let anyone else show up.
More than anything else, this game was fun - the players clearly enjoyed it, and we the fans were reminded of what this basketball team is capable of, and how enjoyable it is when they play that way. The Vols did to Carolina what everyone expected them to do to LSU...but it was much more fun this way, and was a breath of fresh air I think we all needed. This team is still a great story...and it's much easier to remember that when they play this way.
All of these factors are hopefully exactly what the Vols need heading into the most challenging week on the schedule: at Vanderbilt on Tuesday, at Kentucky on Saturday. The Vols are now 18-4, 6-2 in the SEC. And with the win today, no matter what happens on the road in the next seven days, this team has positioned itself well for March. Brian Williams was back on the bench today, and could return to action as soon as Tuesday (if Pearl wants to put his son back on the bench, of course). Tennessee played its best basketball heading into its most important stretch. You couldn't ask for anything more.