After being out-worked in a loss to Missouri on Wednesday night, No. 21 Tennessee bounced back with an impressive road win over a tough South Carolina team Saturday evening. Lamonte Turner carried the Vols to the 70-63 win over the Gamecocks, while freshman Derrick Walker stepped up in a big way.
These are the biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s win over Frank Martin and South Carolina, as the Vols improved to 13-5 on the season and 4-3 in SEC play.
Lamonte Turner’s meal should be paid for all week.
Tennessee doesn’t beat South Carolina without the contributions of Lamonte Turner. The Alabama native was by far the best player on the court. Turner scored 25 points on 6-of-9 shooting and was 3-fo-3 from three, as well as a perfect 10-for-10 at the free throw line. Turner also hauled in an impressive six rebounds and assisted on two buckets.
With under 30 seconds remaining in the game and the game hanging in the balance, Turner drilled four free throws to seal the win. If Turner doesn’t make those free throws, there’s no telling what the outcome may have been.
Turner has struggled of late, speciallically on offense. Since the win over Georgia Tech nearly two months ago, the redshirt sophomore’s shot has been in a slump. On a night where Tennessee’s other primary guards were just 1-of-8 from the floor, Turner’s shot picked a great time to break out of its slump.
In college basketball, your primary ball-handlers have to produce. On Saturday, Turner did just that, turning the basketball over just twice in 32 minutes.
Derrick Walker steps up in a big way.
In Walker’s first six SEC games, the freshman out of Missouri scored a grand total of six points on five shots. Against South Carolina on Saturday, Walker scored a career-high 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the field in 25 minutes of play. Walker scored eight points in the first half alone, helping Turner carry the team in the midst of a defensive battle.
Walker’s productive minutes were as critical to the Vols success as anyone on the team against South Carolina. The production of Walker was able to mask early struggles from star forward Grant Williams, as well as Kyle Alexander’s lack of production.
Once the light bulb comes on for Walker and he figures out this college basketball thing, he’s going to be a problem for the rest of the SEC. During preseason camp, coaches thought Walker was good enough to start as a freshman. He’s starting to show why.
Tennessee doesn’t waver on the road.
Being a Frank Martin coached team is no small task no matter where the game is being played. To win it on the road in a hostile environment is even more impressive.
South Carolina fans flocked to Colonial Life Arena and packed the stands. The atmosphere was impressive and tough, but the Vols never wavered. It was one of the tougher crowds Tennessee has played in front of this season. South Carolina would punch Tennessee, but the Vols would punch right back.
In years past and even in losses to Arkansas and Missouri this season, the Vols haven’t punched back at all times. If the Vols can build off this, it’ll go a long way to reaching what they’re capable of reaching.
Yves Pons finally earns some minutes.
The highly-touted freshman out of France has struggled to find playing time this season in large part because of the learning curve he’s battling that other freshmen aren’t. That being that Pons doesn’t speak English very well.
We know about Pons’ athleticism, ridiculous dunks and impressive physique, but he’s struggled to adapt to college basketball to this point. However, due to improved play in practice over recent weeks and a lack of production on the wing of late, Pons received his opportunity to prove his worth against the Gamecocks.
It was a mixed bag of results for Pons. In 12 minutes, Pons scored two points, making his only attempt from the field with a thunderous dunk to show off his athleticism. On defense, he looked a tad bit out of place as he picked up three fouls, but that’s expected with freshman in the early stages of their career. He also hauled in two rebounds.
When Pons receives minutes, you can see glimpses of why many think he will be a special player at the collegiate level. Fans will have to be patient, but when the light comes on, Pons should be a big time playmaker for the Vols.
Edited by Seth Raborn
Feature image courtesy of South Carolina Athletics