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Vols find their shot behind a big night from Victor Bailey

Photo Credit: Knoxville News Sentinel

After a rough night shooting in Baton Rouge, Tennessee was looking to get back on track against South Carolina. The Vols had a scare on Sunday afternoon, when a tier-1 member of the team tested positive for Covid. After multiple re-testing, it turned out to be a false positive, which was great news for the team.

The Vols did end up changing their starting lineup against the Gamecocks, as Victor Bailey Jr. got the nod to start over Santiago Vescovi. As the first few minutes ticked off the clock, Bailey started knocking down shots from behind the arc. If the early looks were a sign of things to come, this was going to be a good night.

Tennessee would need others to step up tonight in the place of Josiah-Jordan James. After the LSU game, James told the media he had sprained his wrist and was sporting a soft cast. The veteran wasn’t available against the Gamecocks. This would be the opportunity that Victor Bailey was looking for.

It was very clear at the first media timeout that Bailey was on the verge of having a breakout night, as he had six points for the Vols. The shots were falling for the Gamecocks as well though, starting the game 5-7 from the perimeter. South Carolina led 25-21 at the nine minute mark in the first half, but the Vols started attacking the basket off turnovers. Even though the Gamecocks were shooting 78% from three point range, the Vols had 14 points off their turnovers, giving them a 40-31 lead.

If you thought Victor Bailey was done with his hot shooting after the first media timeout, you were sorely mistaken. Bailey had 14 points for Tennessee on 4-7 shooting from behind the arc.

Tennessee led 50-39 at halftime, thanks in part to Bailey and the 10 points from Jaden Springer. The Vols shot 53% from the field in the 1st half, with 16 points off turnovers.

As the 2nd half began, John Fulkerson was ready to get in on the action as well. The senior, who has been struggling as of late to find his shot, had himself a fantastic 20 minutes. The Vols were forcing mistakes from the Gamecocks, leading to multiple transition baskets for Fulkerson.

As for the guard play, Victor Bailey and Jaden Springer had a combined 32 points at the 15:45 mark of the 2nd half. The Gamecocks wouldn’t go away quietly though, at least for a few minutes, as they cut the lead down to 8 points around the nine minute mark. But the Vols were too much to handle tonight across the board.

Tennessee went on a streak where they had 9 assists on 10 baskets, taking advantage of the Gamecocks in transition. John Fulkerson had 15 points in the second half, a much needed night for the senior. As the Vols continued to spread the love, the lead continued to grow. Tennessee had 12 fastbreak points in the 2nd half.

But the story of the night was the new starter, Victor Bailey Jr., who caught fire on a cold night in Knoxville. Bailey had 15 points in the 2nd half, helping the Vols put away the Gamecocks in the final eight minutes. The Gamecocks weren’t given a chance to breathe over the last portion of the game.

The Vols led 76-62 at the under eight break and never looked back.

Tennessee had four players in double-digits tonight, as John Fulkerson finished with 19 points, Jaden Springer with 16 points and Yves Pons with 10. But just like the game started with Bailey, the final stat-line ended the same.

Victor Bailey Jr. led the Vols with a career high 29 points, on 7-10 shooting from behind the perimeter, as Tennessee won 93-73. This was a much needed performance for Bailey, who has struggled to hit the open shot for most of the season. If you were looking for the breakout game, this was definitely it. The question now is can he maintain this type of performance. The Vols don’t need him to go for over 20 points per night, they just need consistency.

Tonight the Vols did what they were supposed to do against an inferior team. They took advantage of the situation, something they haven’t done at times this season. If they can build upon this performance and get Josiah-Jordan James back in the lineup, the maybe this team can prove the doubters wrong.

Tonight showed that Tennessee can be the dominant team, but now it’s about consistently doing it.

Next up, a showdown with an inferior Kentucky team.

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