No. 1 Tennessee holds off South Carolina for 85-73 win

Despite just eight points from Grant Williams on Wednesday, No. 1 Tennessee used a versatile attack and suffocating defense to stifle South Carolina for the Vols’ 11th consecutive SEC victory.

Early in the second half of No. 1 Tennessee’s Wednesday night matchup against South Carolina, Grant Williams sent a bounce pass to Lamonte Turner, who promptly pushed the ball ahead to Admiral Schofield.

Without missing a beat, Schofield soared through the lane for a slam before strutting in front of the student section and invigorating an already amped-up crowd in Thompson-Boling Arena.

The play summed up the night for the Vols, as Schofield’s 21 points carried Tennessee (23-1, 11-0 SEC) in an 85-73 win that featured five Vols in double figures. The victory puts Tennessee at 23-1 on the season and 11-0 in SEC play for the first time in school history.

Grant Williams, whose season average teeters on 20 points per game, chipped in just eight on the night. He also added seven assists, though, and where Williams came up short, Tennessee found an answer.

Behind Schofield’s 21 points, Jordan Bowden grabbed 16 of his own, while Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bone and Lamonte Turner notched 10 apiece. Gamecocks coach Frank Martin was quick to note the Vols’ versatility.

“You have to pick your poison with them,” Martin said. “They’re balanced.”

Barnes gave credit to his team’s ability to share the ball, but he also said that the Vols’ scoring total was due in part to the speed of the matchup against South Carolina (12-12, 7-4 SEC).

“I do think we’re balanced,” Barnes said. “But a lot of it has to do with the pace of the game was really fast.”

That pace started off strong from the opening tip, as Alexander grabbed a rebound and slammed the ball home for Tennessee’s first two points. After a 3-pointer from South Carolina’s A.J. Lawson, Alexander found his way to the rim again to give the Vols a 4-3 lead.

“There’s no question we’re better when Kyle’s playing his best basketball,” Barnes said. “He’s the anchor of what we do.”

Following Alexander’s jumper, the teams battled until a Lamonte Turner 3-pointer tied the score at 15. The Vols then mounted an 18-3 run to clinch a 33-18 advantage, which grew to 49-36 by halftime.

The final 20 minutes began with a bang for the Vols, as a layup from Alexander preceded Schofield’s rim-rocking slam.

Another big layup for Schofield put Tennessee up by 19 with 10:47 left, and the Vols’ senior added 10 of the Vols’ final 15 points through the remainder of the game.

Martin was quick to note Schofield’s impact, especially considering the way he performed against the Gamecocks two years ago.

“(He) didn’t play too well against our small forwards a couple years ago,” Martin said. “He obviously didn’t go home and pout and cry about it. He went home and worked and worked and worked and now he’s throwing people around.”

But Schofield wasn’t the only one getting physical. Tennessee held the Gamecocks to just 26-for-63 from inside the arc, but South Carolina’s sharp 14-for-23 effort from 3-point range kept the Vols in check.

Meanwhile, Tennessee connected 34 times out of 69 field-goal attempts, and a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe boosted the Vols’ efforts.

Now, Tennessee looks ahead to Saturday. The Vols are set to take on No. 5 Kentucky on the road. The matchup will prove an intriguing one, as the Wildcats lost to then-No. 19 LSU on Wednesday night in Lexington.

Either way, Barnes knows that his team needs to be prepared for a fight.

“I like to think that if everything goes in and we play the way we are capable of, we should be able to handle a lot,” he said. “There is no doubt that Kentucky feels that same way.”

Meanwhile, Schofield has a different outlook.

“I don’t remember much about last year,” Schofield said of the Vols’ 61-59 win last February in Lexington. “I remember walking out with a dub.”

Tennessee takes on the Wildcats at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday night at Rupp Arena, and the matchup will be shown on ESPN.

 

Featured image courtesy of Jake Nichols.

Edited by Christian Knox