COLUMBIA, S.C. — Zakai Zeigler sighed and shrugged his shoulders as Tennessee assistant coaches told him not to pick up full court against South Carolina guards.
The Vols were on the court with 10:33 to play in the second half, waiting for South Carolina to join them after the media timeout and the assistant coaches instructions were the most adversity he faced all afternoon.
Tennessee (13-2, 3-0 SEC) led by 41 points on its way to a destructive, 85-42, victory over South Carolina (7-8, 0-2 SEC) at Colonial Life Arena.
Here’s three quick takeaways on a one-sided Tennessee victory.
Vols Take GG Jackson Out Of The Game
South Carolina’s below average offense has one very clear and real threat— five-star freshman GG Jackson. Vols’ head coach Rick Barnes discussed what a major recruiting win it was for Lamont Paris as he met with the media Friday. It was clear Jackson had Tennessee’s attention.
Tennessee took the star forward out of the game. Entering the game, Jackson was averaging 16.9 points per game. Tennessee held him to zero points on zero-of-eight shooting from the field— by far the worst game of the freshman’s career.
The Vols didn’t assign just one player to guard South Carolina’s lone star as Olivier Nkamhoua, Jahmai Mashack and even Santiago Vescovi took turns defending him.
The collection of Tennessee players guarding Jackson clearly had an impact early as Jackson couldn’t find a rhythm. In fact, Jackson totaled more turnovers (two) than he did points, rebounds and assists (one) in the first half.
Tennessee was 17-point favorites over South Carolina for a reason and the Vols’ ability to take Jackson out of the game ended any hopes of an upset big.
“This time of year, it’s all scouting reports,” Barnes said of the success defending Jackson. “We have a group of guys that, one, I think the fact that we gave them great respect coming in, in terms of we knew that he leads them in scoring and rebounding and we knew we had to put a target on him. We’re going to have to work hard. But overall, a couple different guys guarded him. They took it on to know that they were guarding a good player and trying to do everything they could to make him have a tough night.”
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Olivier Nkamhoua Red-Hot Shooting
Olivier Nkamhoua entered Tennessee’s win over South Carolina on an offensive tear. Nkamhoua had scored eight or more points in eight straight games and was averaging 13.5 points over Tennessee’s last four games.
The senior power forward took his offensive performance to a whole new level at Colonial Life Arena, making all 10 of his shots on his way to scoring a game-high 21 points.
“Just been taking shots in rhythm, taking them in my shots,” Nkamhoua said of his success. “Taking shots that I know I am good at and that I know I work on every day.”
Nkamhoua hit a triple, ran the floor in transition for dunks, worked for great positioning before finishing easy layups and hit his go-to 12-foot fadeaway consistently. Any way Olivier Nkamhoua has scored in his 3.5 years at Tennessee, he scored that way against the Gamecocks.
Barnes has been searching for consistent interior scoring for the last 2.5 years and Nkamhoua continues to provide it as of late. Dominating the worst team in the SEC isn’t worth crowning the senior forward over, but it’s a good sign that his recent success is more than sustainable.
Nkamhoua added 10 rebounds to complete his first double-double of the season.
Doing it at the same building his 2021-22 season ended made it all the more special for Nkamhoua.
Happy Homecomings For James And Phillips
Tennessee coming to South Carolina proved as a homecoming for Palmetto State native’s Julian Phillips and Josiah-Jordan James.
Phillips — from nearby Blythewood — had an abundance of friends and family at the game and delivered with a modest, eight point and one rebound performance. The five-star freshman made three-of-four shot attempts from the field including a triple to open the game’s scoring.
It was just the sixth triple the capable shooter has made this season and a positive sign as the athletic wing looks to find another gear with SEC play heating up.
“I just feel he’s getting closer-and-closer where he’s just going to keep getting better-and-better each game,” Barnes said. “I thought he was good today. He’s still learning a lot. I think this month is a big month as we get into conference play … I thought today he gave us a great effort.”
It wasn’t quite the homecoming for Charleston native Josiah-Jordan James but his presence on the court was the biggest positive of the day.
Playing for the second consecutive game after battling a knee injury all season, James was fantastic, scoring 12 points to go along with three rebounds and two assists.
“He’s worked,” Barnes said of James. “From the time he’s gotten here, I don’t know that I’ve seen a guy transform himself from not being a great shooter to where, I mean, he’s on the verge of being a great shooter.
It was a good Saturday for anybody in Tennessee orange but an even better one for the duo of Vols making their returns to their home state.
Tennessee returns to Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday night to face instate rival Vanderbilt. Tip-off is at 9 p.m. ET and the SEC Network is broadcasting the game.