Frank Martin’s squad sports KenPom’s 3rd ranked defense, and after tonight, you could easily argue that’s too low.
South Carolina held Tennessee to 32.7% shooting, including 9% (1/11) from 3, and forced 22 turnovers as the Vols scored a season-low 60 points en route to a 70-60 loss to the Gamecocks on Wednesday night.
Both teams struggled at times in the first half as they combined for 26 turnovers which included a stretch of 5 straight possessions ending with one. After 4 minutes, the game was on a 40-40 pace. Just in case you thought it couldn’t get any worse, after 8 minutes, the game was on a 30-30 pace.
The Gamecocks finally found some semblance of offense, going on an extended 23-6 run to take a 27-12 lead. The run was fueled less by excellent offense for South Carolina and more by Tennessee’s complete and utter inability to hold on to and score the basketball. In that nearly 11 minute stretch, UT shot 1/13 from the floor and turned it over 8 times.
The Vols found a little life just before halftime, closing on a 9-0 run to get within 27-21. In the midst of that spurt, Shembari Phillips went down with what looked like a knee injury. No updates yet, but that’s certainly NOT what Tennessee needs right now.
Any hope of maintain momentum was quickly and efficiently squashed, however, as the Gamecocks scored the first 7 of the second half to push the lead back to 13. Tennessee again responded, answering with a 6-0 run to cut it back to 7.
After a USCe free throw, Grant Williams made 2 free throws to pull the Vols within 6, but they would get no closer the rest of the second half. Every time Tennessee threatened, Sindarius Thornwell had the answer, either by scoring himself or setting up a teammate. The Gamecocks are now 10-0 this year when he plays.
Thornwell led all scorers with 22 and was joined in double figures by Hassani Gravett and Duane Notice. Grant Williams led the Vols with 15, though 9 of his points came from the free throw line. Hubbs (on 4/11 shooting) and Turner had 12.
The breakdown of this game is really pretty simple. South Carolina has an elite defense, and the Vols were particularly ill-equipped to counter that tonight without Mostella’s spark off the bench.
They’ll have to learn to fight through that, obviously, and will get their next opportunity to find their footing on Saturday night in Nashville.