The men’s basketball team took care of business Saturday in front of 17,215 people at Thompson-Boling Arena. Coming off a tough road loss at Vanderbilt, the Vols rebounded, literally and metaphorically, to pound the South Carolina Gamecocks, 72-53.
The win helped the Vols improve to 15-8 (6-4), while South Carolina fell to 8-15 (1-9). Saturday’s win was also Tennessee’s 13th wire-to-wire victory under head coach Cuonzo Martin. Oddly enough, Tennessee’s last three victories have been wire-to-wire. They never trailed against Ole Miss, Alabama, or South Carolina.
After vaulting out to a 16-2 lead, Tennessee never looked back. Any chance South Carolina had of coming back in the first half was immediately silenced by a Tennessee jumper. Shortly after a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Jordan McRae, the Vols went to the locker room with a 45-22 halftime lead.
McRae had already eclipsed his season average, with 20 points in the first half. Jarnell Stokes added another 13 before the break.
While realistically the Gamecocks outscored Tennessee in the second half, it wasn’t so you’d really notice it. The Vols continued to coast, making open shots. However, South Carolina did make a minor push when Tennessee relieved its starters.
Trailing 54-31, the Gamecocks took advantage of a smaller lineup and went on a 10-0 run to make the score 54-41 before Tennessee put the starters back in. Armani Moore drilled a three-pointer to stop the run for South Carolina, and Tennessee continued to dominate.
Leading comfortably the rest of the way, the Vols sealed up the 72-53 victory.
As is common in Tennessee’s wins this season, McRae and Stokes played well. McRae finished with 24 points to lead the Vols in scoring, while Stokes added 17 points and eight rebounds, just shy of his usual double-double performance.
Jeronne Maymon added 10 points for the Vols, while Armani Moore racked up nine. Josh Richardson, Antonio Barton, and Darius Thompson combined for the remaining 12.
Coach Martin said, “I think they’re dependent on those three guys [Jordan, Jeronne, and Jarnell]. Those three guys have to play well for us in order for us to be successful,” when asked how his team relies on the efforts of Stokes, Maymon, and McRae.
For South Carolina, Sindarius Thornwell finished with 15 points to lead all scorers. Thornwell was the only major threat to the Vols in Saturday’s game, as all other scorers were held to single digits.
After being asked about how it feels to play teams that he can push around, Stokes said, “When you play against teams like this and you think you can push them around, they come out with a lot of fire knowing they are somewhat physically enabled against a big guy like me. These are scary teams to play because I feel like sometimes the ref lets them get away with cheap fouls.”
Tennessee made 53% of its shots on the afternoon, while the Gamecocks shot only 36%. The Vols also led the way in rebounding with 36, compared to 31 for South Carolina.
The Vols have won three of their last four games, and are currently sitting as a #11 seed in ESPN guru Joe Lunardi’s “bracketology,” which projects which teams will make the NCAA tournament.
Tennessee faces a monstrous test on Tuesday when they take on the Florida Gators in Thompson-Boling Arena. Florida is ranked third in the nation, with a record of 21-2 (10-0). They won the first meeting with the Vols, 67-41 in Gainesville.
The game is set for Tuesday, February 11th with a 7:00 p.m. start time on ESPN.