Sometimes it's better to just chalk a W up and move on.
This wasn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination. The only positive parts of the first half were Tobias Harris, who opened with Tennessee's first six points and seven boards, and Scotty Hopson, who finally got around to getting to the line tonight. Well, that's not true; ball distribution was ...well, improved might be going a bit too far, but the effort was certainly there. For every unnecessary extra pass there was a necessary extra pass; considering we've been subjected to plenty of selfish play so far, that's progress of a sort. Melvin Goins was to be blamed / credited with 5 assists in the first half. Sadly, his alley-oop-to-the-back-of-the-rim didn't count as an assist or, amazingly, a shot.
Better than that, though? Guys were getting to the line. For a team that's been averaging 12 FTs per game in-conference, getting 13 in the first half alone was a welcome relief, and the guys getting to the line were the guys that need to be getting to the line: Hopson, Brian Williams, and Cameron Tatum. Go figure - Tennessee had 16 points in the paint in the first half. That almost balances out the 47 combined boards (of which Tennessee got 30, fortunately) and 14 turnovers.
The second half saw Tennessee lose the massive rebounding advantage, but it didn't see a dropoff in free throws, and the assists were plentiful. (So for that matter were the errant passes, but on some level we already knew that.)
By the numbers, it looks like a good game: Hopson ended up going off for 23 (6/7 from the line and three SportsCenter highlights to boot), Tatum got to the line a bunch and ended up with 13 (let's not talk about how he did once he got to the line), Williams got 10/9, and Tobias chipped in with a 10/8. Goins dropped 6 dimes. But that doesn't reflect game flow, which was choppy and uneven. The game didn't really seem settled until late, when you looked up at the clock at the under-4, checked the numbers, and realized there just wasn't enough time.
All credit to the Gamecocks, though. They did a great job of counter-punching all game: down 11-4, they took the lead at 15-14. At 39-27, they came back to 44-42, and when Tennessee made it 54-46, they got close at 56-51. At the end of the day, it wasn't quite enough. Bruce Ellington - their leading scorer coming in - took 19 shots to get 15 points, which is awful efficiency any way you slice it.
Is there anything to take from this? Not really; Tennessee led most of the game (that 15-14 South Carolina lead, coupled with a 3-2 lead early, were the only leads South Carolina had), and South Carolina just didn't have the manpower to compete for the full 40. Short of a few thunderous Hopson throwdowns, there isn't any reason to remember this game, let alone try and learn from it. The frustrating things we've grown accustomed to are still there - inability to close games out, sloppy ball handling, stretches of awful shot selection. That's this team, and we're left to hope that there's enough good in there to balance out the bad.
If anything, this was the beginning of what we hope will be a change in process. Getting to the line was great, but South Carolina also gives up a ton of shooting fouls. I'm nearly willing to forgive the 21-35 line because of the 35, but there's no way that'll fly come tourney time, whatever tourney that may be. Still, the only way to get better at free throws in game situations is to take free throws in games, so keep on keepin' on. Scoring balance was good, and Goins didn't look as awkward as he can; if he can even cut down on the boneheaded mistakes by one or two a game, this team will be a lot better for it.
Williams desperately needs to learn a pump fake or something, as Sam Muldrow ended up with approximately half a billion blocks.
It's good to see a win that in retrospect was uncomfortable for reasons that had nothing to do with the game. At 16-10 and back above .500 in-conference, Tennessee moves up to the three-way tie for 3rd in the SEC East, with games against all of them in the very near future. This was business. Nothing more, nothing less. Now the meat of the schedule comes up, and Saturday represents a great opportunity to kick Georgia out of the way to get to the right side of the bubble.