It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty at times. But the No. 21 Vols found a way to bounce back from an ugly loss against Missouri earlier in the week to pull out a 70-63 road win over South Carolina on Saturday night.
Tennessee (13-5, 4-3) didn’t play their “A” game against a South Carolina team (12-7, 3-4) who was coming off a big win against Kentucky earlier this week. But the Vols were spearheaded by an unlikely duo, and they managed to get the win despite not playing their best defensive game and not getting contributions from their usual top players.
The Vols improved to 4-5 against teams inside the top 50 of the RPI with their win over South Carolina, and they will head home this week with a winning record in conference play.
Here are our three biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s 70-63 road win over the Gamecocks.
New Rotation Pays Off
Rick Barnes said after the Missouri loss that he planned on working in a new rotation in the coming games. And he was a man of his word on Saturday, as the Vols’ bench played a huge role and outscored South Carolina’s bench 39 to 17.
Tennessee’s top two bench performers had career nights. Lamonte Turner tied his career-high with 25 points while adding six rebounds and two assists. He was nearly perfect from the field, shooting 6-of-9 overall while hitting all three of his three-pointers and connecting on all 10 of his free throws. Freshman Derrick Walker smashed his career-high by dumping in 10 points. His previous career-high had been five points in the Vols’ season opener against Presbyterian. He also had four rebounds and was a perfect 5-for-5 shooting.
Grant Williams added 14 points and Admiral Schofield had 12 points, four rebounds, and three assists.
Vols Survive Strong Effort from Gamecocks
Tennessee weathered a very tough storm on Saturday night. South Carolina nailed threes with ease in the second half, as they were 6-of-9 from behind the three-point arc at one point in the second half (they finished 6-of-11 in the second half). The Gamecocks finished hitting 43.5 percent of their threes and had more than double Tennessee’s three-point attempts (23 to 11).
Not only that, but South Carolina dominated the offensive glass. They pulled down 15 offensive rebounds compared to Tennessee’s four. But they couldn’t capitalize on that, as the Vols actually outscored them in second chance points 9-8.
The Vols shot significantly better overall than South Carolina, connecting on 57.5 percent of their shots while the Gamecocks only made 36.7 percent of their shots. But Tennessee played far from a great game overall, and they got lucky that South Carolina wasn’t spot on as well.
A Break Coming?
After a brutal stretch of games that’s seen the Vols plays some highly-ranked RPI teams, a little bit of a break might be coming.
Seven of the Vols’ last 10 opponents have been ranked inside the top 50 of the RPI, and Tennessee has gone just 3-4 against those seven teams. But the Gamecocks will mark the last time the Vols play a team inside the top 50 of the RPI for over two weeks.
The Vols have four opponents before they play another top-50 RPI team. Vanderbilt (146th), Iowa State (91st), LSU (74th), and Ole Miss (79th) are far from guaranteed wins. But compared to the gauntlet that the Vols just ran through, those games look much more winnable.