Tennessee led wire-to-wire and defeated South Carolina 73-64 on Saturday at the Colonial Life Arena. The loss ensures that the Gamecocks (10-18, 2-12) will at least tie for the worst record in the Southeastern Conference.
South Carolina has not finished last in the league since the 2006-07 season but a loss to either Mississippi State or Georgia in the final two games will seal the No. 12 spot in the SEC Tournament. The Gamecocks can still finish as high as No. 11 in the league with two victories coupled with two Georgia losses.
Head coach Darrin Horn wanted his team to be more aggressive and, in a lot of ways, it was forcing 21 turnovers and taking 22 more shots, but shots just would not fall.
“We did not get off to a good start tonight in terms of turning the ball over and giving up easy baskets,” Horn said. “I thought we did a good job of turning up our defense and aggressiveness and got it close at the half. We need a collective performance and we didn’t get that tonight.”
Guard Trae Golden drilled a three-pointer just 45 seconds into the game to give the Volunteers the lead right out of the chute and the visitors never looked back. After a brief tie at seven apiece, Tennessee never trailed.
Tennessee went on a 13-2 run over a five-minute stretch, which was capped by an offensive rebound tip-in by guard Cameron Tatum. Forward Jeronne Maymon was the players for the Vols in the first half, though, connecting on 5-of-7 shots for 10 points and he also pulled down five rebounds.
The Vols shot 50 percent, 14-of-28, from the field in the first half and connected on 4-of-7 three-point attempts. The Gamecocks, on the other hand, were just 11-of-32 from the field. Guards Bruce Ellington and Brenton Williams led the scoring push dropping 10 and eight, respectively.
“We came into the game wanting to be aggressive and an attacking team on both ends of the floor,” Horn said. “In a lot of ways, we accomplished that. We just didn’t complete the things we needed to to get over the hump.”
Despite a poor shooting first half, the Gamecocks were able to make a little bit of a run cutting what was once an 11-point deficit to just two points at the break. After the intermission, the Vols cranked it back up on offense.
Tennessee opened the lead back up to double-digits with 15:19 remaining in the second half and it stayed that way, or close to it, for the duration of the game. Golden finished with a game-high 21 points for the Volunteers.
“I thought he did a good job, especially in the second half, of being aggressive and attacking the rim,” Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Once he started doing that, we got to rolling. The other guys followed suit.”
Senior Malik Cooke tried his best to keep his team in the game as he notched his second career double-double. Cooke scored 10 points in the second half, 17 in the game, as the team cut the deficit to nine with 1:50 remaining in the game.
The deficit, which grew to as large as 16 points, was too much to overcome. Ellington scored 19 points while Williams chipped in 11 in the losing effort.
The Gamecocks shot 32.4 percent from the floor for the game, but did make 14-of-19 free throws. Tennessee held the rebounding margin 38-32. South Carolina couldn’t capitalize on 21 turnovers by the Volunteers.
“Guys have to make plays,” Horn said. “They have to finish shots.”
South Carolina will host Mississippi State for Senior Night on Wednesday, February 29 at 8 p.m. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. The regular season concludes on March 3 at Georgia at 1:30 p.m.
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