If you went to the Tennessee- South Carolina game on Saturday and heard a high-pitched noise near the end of the game, don’t be alarmed — that was just the sound of the Vols squeaking past the Gamecocks. Tennessee managed to hold on and beat South Carolina 56- 55, and here are three things.
THIS GAME WAS GROSS
Tennessee/ South Carolina basketball games are usually ugly affairs. It seems like Gamecock coach Frank Martin prefers that kind of basketball: tough defense, lots of fouls and not a lot of points. USC scored 70 points or fewer 15 times last season and didn’t break triple digits once, so whenever the Gamecocks come around on the schedule, I know the Vols are in for a scrap.
That’s exactly what Tennessee got Saturday, and by scrap I mean that the game was hard-fought, not that the game was actually a scrap or piece of garbage or refuse even though I could understand how the statement could be interpreted as such by anybody who watched.
DISCLAIMER: THE FOLLOWING SEGMENT IS MARKED NSFW, AND IT SHOULD BE AVOIDED BY ANYONE WHO HAS A WEAK STOMACH OR IS BOTHERED BY GRAPHIC SCENES OR GRATUITOUS BLOOD AND/ OR VIOLENCE.
Neither team could be accused of being offensive juggernauts this year, but this game was paltry even if it was graded on a curve. The two squads combined for 34 made field goals and 111 points with South Carolina’s 55 points a pothole in the road for a team that averages about 68 per game (255th in the country).
The Vols made 14 field goals and tied the season-low they set in the loss to Florida State. Making the shots was a problem, though it wasn’t related to an overall lack of volume. Tennessee attempted 54 shots, and that 25.9 percent is the second-lowest output of the season sitting just behind the 25-percent mark the Vols put in against Memphis.
There was a lid on the basket from deep, again, as the hot 3-point shooting from the LSU and Missouri games cooled significantly. Tennessee made just six of the 31 attempts from deep, and I guarantee both of those number irritate coach Rick Barnes. The 31 attempts is a season high, the six makes is tied for third-lowest number and the 19.4 percent is the third-worst number so far this year.
The 19 turnovers is the second-most this season for Tennessee, and the 22 fouls is a new season high. The Vols managed to elicit 29 fouls from the Gamecocks and turned those into 22 makes on 28 free-throw attempts (second-most attempts so far this year). On the flip side, South Carolina made just 13 of its 22 attempts, and while it’s usually hard to point to one thing and say “that’s the difference in the game, right there,” the Gamecocks leaving nine free points on the floor in what turned out to be a one-point game was absolutely instrumental in the game’s outcome.
JOHN FULKERSON, AKA THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN
I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with the movie “The Six Million Dollar Man,” but it’s a movie from the 70’s about a former astronaut who is enhanced with bionic implants to one arm, one eye and both legs following an accident. The rebuild cost, you guessed it, six million dollars.
I had actually never heard of the movie, but looked it up after I saw a Simpsons’ episode that had a reference — Lee Majors (he plays the main character) scooping up and flying away with Marge. Come to find out, “The Six Million Dollar Man,” is the source of numerous pop-culture references, and if you ever hear the phrase “we can rebuild him; we have the technology,” well, now you know where it’s from.
Let’s circle up, here. I’ve finally followed the clues and decided that Tennessee’s medical staff rebuilt Fulkerson with bionic implants after the shoulder/ elbow injury he suffered his freshman season in Knoxville.
Now, obviously, Fulkerson can’t be out there running around at 60 MPH or using his super strength to completely overpower his opponents because that would arise too much suspicion. They’re allowing him to sporadically dominate and thus maintain the ruse.
Fulkerson had a team-high 15 points against South Carolina and collected 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. It’s the 10th time in 14 chances that Fulkerson has scored in double figures this season, even though he’s not naturally incredibly gifted offensively. He’s just playing his role, as he’s done each season at Tennessee. The team needs scoring, so he’s shooting more. Last year, the team needed rebounding and defense, so he averaged 8.8 boards and 2.3 rebounds per 40 minutes. His freshman year, he was scattered energy and effort off the bench.
Across the board, his per-40 numbers are mostly down, except for upticks in a few crucial areas. His points are up, as I mentioned, but his free throw makes and attempts are both up and, maybe most importantly, his fouls are down. He was frustratingly foul-prone last year, but that was okay since he was a complementary piece of the puzzle. His fouls have dropped from 6.2 to 4.0 this season as the team’s starting center and one of two true post players the team has available.
(There are actually zero clues and no evidence that my theory about Fulkerson’s bionic limbs is true. But if you want to let a total and complete lack of evidence determine your beliefs, I won’t stop you.)
Santiago Vescovi started and had 13 points on 2-6 shooting (all his field-goal makes and attempts were from 3-point range) with three rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes of game action. Those are mostly good things.
Vescovi also had seven turnovers and four personal fouls. Those things are less good.
A debated ignited on Twitter about Vescovi’s value given his offensive output relative to his propensity for giving the ball to the other team.
His vision and play-making skills have value that is compounded by the absence of ball handlers on this roster. In another year with another roster, Vescovi’s minutes are likely severely limited. But, as it is in most situations, Vescovi’s value is determined by the market. The lack of point guard supply means that being turnover and foul prone can really only do so much damage to Vescovi’s value. The demand can’t be satisfied any other way. I’m not a numbers guy or a math guy and have a tenuous at best understanding of the words supply and demand, but until somebody else decides to be able to handle the ball against pressure and hit open shots, Barnes doesn’t have much choice in the matter.
It’s Vescovi or bust for the rest of the season, turnovers be damned.