No. 21 ranked Tennessee (12-5, 3-3 SEC) will travel to Columbia to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks (12-6, 3-3 SEC) at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2 Saturday night. Head coach Frank Martin and the Gamecocks swept the Volunteers last season, including an 82-55 win on Feb. 25.
However, this year’s contest is much more evenly matched. Especially now that Tennessee forward Grant Williams has molded himself into a solid basketball player, and South Carolina no longer has Sindarius Thornwell. Each team is coming off vastly different performances in their previous games leading up to this matchup.
The Gamecocks are fresh off a convincing 76-68 win over the No. 18 ranked Kentucky Wildcats at home on Tuesday. South Carolina made the Wildcats freshmen look downright weak, as they forced 16 turnovers and held Kentucky to nine percent shooting from 3-point range. The Gamecocks also recorded 16 offensive rebounds and out-rebounded the Wildcats 40-35 on the boards.
Turnovers were the difference maker for South Carolina as it shot just 38-percent from the field and 22-percent from beyond-the-arc. Junior forward Chris Silva was also a major difference maker, shooting 9-of-17 from the floor for a career-high 27 points and eight rebounds.
The only other Gamecocks players with double-digit points in the win were forward Maik Kotsar and senior Frank Booker, who scored 18 points off the bench. Silva (14.9) and Booker (11.3) are the only two South Carolina players who average over 10 points-per-game. This is majorly due to the fact that the Gamecocks are primarily known for their defensive play.
The Vols fell to the Missouri Tigers 59-55 in their last game after they failed to close out yet another game. Tennessee was able to cut the deficit to just one point with over 1:30 left, but were unable to complete the comeback on Tuesday. This was primarily due to the Tigers ability to shut down the Volunteers guards, as Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden combined for just three points on the night.
Still, Tennessee registered three players with over 10 points in the matchup, led by Williams, Kyle Alexander and Admiral Schofield. The trio combined for 38 of the Vols 55 points, while just 14 points came from the bench. The Vols remain one of the most inconsistent teams in the SEC and the nation following their loss to Missouri.
If Tennessee struggled to get Bone and Bowden going against the Tigers, they will need the duo to be spectacular against a tough South Carolina defense. The Vols big men will likely be able to hold their own against the Gamecocks, but improved guard play is imperative if they want to steal a win in Columbia.
A win would snap South Carolina’s two-game win streak over SEC opponents, and would give head coach Rick Barnes and Tennessee its seventh win over a top 100 ranked teams in RPI.
Edited by Ben McKee
Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics