The No. 18 Vols came back to Knoxville after a beat down at the hands of Alabama over the weekend to host South Carolina. And Tennessee had to fight and claw against a scrappy, defensive-minded Gamecock squad late Tuesday night to try and bounce back.
Tennessee led the Gamecocks by as much as 13 points at one point in the second half, but South Carolina fought their way back and made it a one-point game with 21.5 seconds to go.
But Grant Williams took on a double team, turned around in the paint, and landed a clutch field goal to put the Vols up 70-67 with 11 seconds to go. And that secured the game for Tennessee (19-6, 9-4) as they held on to defeat the Gamecocks (13-13, 4-9) by the same score.
It wasn’t the Vols’ best overall effort, but it was enough to get them back into the win column and keep them in the top three spots in the SEC.
Here are our three biggest takeaways from the Vols’ 70-67 victory over South Carolina.
Thank You, Grant Williams
It’s been a while since the Vols have had to rely on Grant Williams to win a game. Tennessee has been able to spread the ball around in recent games and haven’t needed Williams to take over and provide the spark to will the Vols to win.
But on Tuesday night, Tennessee needed big plays from their best player. And he delivered.
Williams not only hit the game-clinching shot in the waning seconds, but he also led the team with 22 points and was the most efficient player on the court for Tennessee. He finished 7-of-10 from the floor and was 8-of-9 from the free throw line. It was the first time in over a month that Williams had gone over 20 points in a game. His last time doing so was when he went off for a career-high 37 points against Vanderbilt on January 9th.
Williams did have some help, though. Jordan Bowden had 14 points, five rebounds, and three assists, and Admiral Schofield added 13 points, four rebounds, and two assists.
Better in the Paint
The Vols were absolutely dominated down low by Alabama on Saturday. But on Tuesday night, Tennessee reasserted themselves in the paint against South Carolina.
Tennessee outscored the Gamecocks 30 to 20 in the paint, and they out-rebounded South Carolina 32 to 29. The Vols held a 10 to 7 offensive rebound edge and had nine second chance points compared to South Carolina’s four.
Both teams are tough, defensive-oriented teams. But the Vols proved to be the more resilient team on Tuesday.
Sigh of Relief
While losing to South Carolina wouldn’t have been the worst loss Tennessee could’ve suffered here in their final three weeks of play in the regular season, it certainly wouldn’t have been a good one. And Vol fans were left wiping their brows after what could’ve been an ugly loss following a blowout over the weekend.
Tennessee needed to win this game no matter how it happened. Even though it was far from a flawless victory, it still got the Vols the win they needed to get back on track. South Carolina gave the Vols fits earlier this season when Tennessee was in Columbia and coming off a bad 59-55 loss to Missouri, but the Vols survived that game too and got back to their winning ways.
To put it simply, Tennessee found a way. And now it’s on to face Georgia in Athens on Saturday.