When teams lose big games late in the season, the true leaders of the team step up and make plays when needed most. For the Vols, that leader is 19-year-old sophomore Grant Williams.
After the beatdown in Tuscaloosa this past Saturday, Williams said it was a necessary experience, one that brought the team back down to earth.
It was important to hear Tennessee’s best player make such a statement, but it was even more impressive to see him back it up on the court on a night when the Vols needed every single minute he played.
With seconds to play and the Vols up by a single point, Williams elevated over the Gamecocks’ double team and drained his - and the Vols - final shot of the game to clinch the victory, 70-67.
He didn’t do it alone, though. Jordan Bowden led the team at halftime with 11 points, scoring 14 for the entire game, and junior Admiral Schofield finished with 13 points on 6/9 shooting.
But the Vols would’ve lost their second straight conference game and booted from second place in the SEC standings without Williams and his team-leading 22 points, five rebounds, and two blocks. He also set screen after screen while taking multiple charges to put the Vols in optimum scoring range.
Both teams played an extremely physical and aggressive first half, recording 31 combined free throws and 25 combined fouls. An 11-0 run by the Vols gave them a ten point lead, but a subsequent four minute scoring drought helped South Carolina cut that lead down to just four by halftime, 38-34.
The second half started off quick as the Gamecocks came out in a fury and made their first three shots of the second half to tie the game, 40-40. The Vols were officially feeling the pressure and seemed on their heels, until that is, Grant Williams decided to crank it to eleven.
He was essential in building an 18-5 run over the span of seven minutes in the second half, helping the Vols get out to a 14-point lead with just under ten minutes to play. But we all know how tough the SEC is this year and when playing a desperate team like South Carolina - no lead is safe.
SC compiled a 20-7 run to bring the score back within one, 68-67. Thompson-Boling Arena was dead silent and fans everywhere were ready to toss the closest inanimate object at their television sets.
But when you have a great head coach and great top-tier players, these types of situations just work out. The Vols called a pass down low to Williams in the post who made an incredible layup over two defenders to give the Vols their last and final three point lead of the game, 70-67.
Justin Minaya attempted the game-tying three from the top of the arc, but it fell short as Tennessee improved to 19-6 (9-4) on the season. Up next is a trip to SEC arch-rival Georgia on Saturday, February 17th at 5:00 PM CST.
Stats from the game:
- The Vols continued to struggle with turnovers, recording three straight games with at least 13 turnovers. They’ve been on the losing end of the turnover ratio in two of the last three games.
- Tennessee shot 48% from the field and out-rebounded South Carolina 32-29. This is somewhat a disappointment, however, as SC was out-rebounded by 22 in their last game.
- Is this a regression? After winning three out of the last five by more than 20 points, Tennessee struggled yet again to finish off their opponent.
- There were three separate occasions throughout the game where South Carolina did not record a made bucket for at least three minutes.