Three Observations: No. 19 Tennessee 93, South Carolina 73

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    No. 19 Tennessee defeated South Carolina 93-73 on Wednesday night inside of Thompson-Boling Arena behind a career-high 29 points from Victor Bailey Jr.

    Bailey was one of four players to reach double-figures as the Vols (15-5, 8-5 SEC) led for 33 of 40 minutes. John Fulkerson added 19 points, while Jaden Springer scored 16 points and assisted on five shots, respectively. Yves Pons added 10 points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block.

    South Carolina (5-10, 3-8 SEC), down two starters, was led by 20 points from AJ Lawson on 8-of-20 shooting. Keyshawn Bryant and TJ Moss each scored 15 points apiece.

    Here’s a look at our five biggest observations from Tennessee’s win over South Carolina.

    Vols avoid COVID

    Tennessee avoided a tough situation on Wednesday night. The game was originally scheduled for Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m., but because of a positive COVID test within UT’s program, the game was pushed back to Wednesday at 9 p.m. The thought process was that the Vols would be without a couple of players as a result of the positive case and contact tracing.

    That didn’t end up being the case, however. The positive case turned out to be a false positive. Whoever tested positive on Sunday, tested negative on Monday, Tuesday and earlier in the day Wednesday for it to be ruled a false positive. As a result, the player was available to play and so were the subsequent players who ended up in contact tracing. The Vols would have been without four players had the test actually been positive according to Tennessee.

    “I am proud of these guys for the preparation and the unknown,” Rick Barnes said after the game. “We didn’t know until later today the situation right before shootaround, a little bit before that what the deal was. I am just really proud of these guys being locked in and doing what they did.”

    Even though the COVID test ended up false, the Vols were not at full strength. Josiah-Jordan James did not play due to a lingering wrist injury. Victor Bailey Jr. started in James’ place along with John Fulkerson, who was also inserted back into the lineup.

    “I think he’s OK,” Barnes said of James. “I mean, we think he’ll be back Saturday. We’ll know more (later), but we think he will be.”

    Bailey finds his stroke

    Bailey took advantage of finding himself back in the starting lineup. He finished the night 9-of-16 from the field and 7-of-10 from 3-point range for a career-high 29 points. His seven made three’s tied for the most by a Vol during the Rick Barnes era. Lamonte Turner made seven against Presbyterian on Dec. 16, 2016.

    Bailey also tallied a career-high-tying four assists with no turnovers, one block and a steal in the win.

    “It felt great,” Bailey said. “It’s always good to see some shots fall. My teammates were hyping me up. Coach was telling me to shoot it. It always feels good to see some balls go in the hoop.”

    Fulky back?

    Fulkerson also took advantage of finding himself back in the starting lineup. He scored 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting and was 5-for-7 from the free throw line. He chipped in six rebounds, three assists and two steals.

    “I thought he did the best job of running tonight that he’s done all year,” Barnes said. “He really ran the floor hard.”

    “You just have to keep working and know what’s gotten you to this point,” Fulkerson added when asked about his recent struggles. “With all the hard work you’ve put in, don’t stop, because you think you’ve arrived or it’s going to be easier. You’ve got to work even harder than that now and keep putting the time in. You also need to stay mentally strong and mentally locked in. That’s what I always say is a really big part of the game, the mental side. I probably couldn’t have done this without my teammates and coaches and I think the whole team can say that we like to pick each other up.

    “My dad always says that it’s not how you start, but how you finish. So, we need to be playing our best basketball here at the end of the season, coming together as a team and clicking on all cylinders, because it could be a one possession or one play game that could end our season. This is a very important time for us. We have to come together, be totally locked in and realize that, that one possession could end our season.”

    Up Next

    Tennessee now turns its attention to Kentucky. The Vols will remain in Knoxville and host the Wildcats at 1 p.m. ET on CBS.