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Three Quick Takeaways: Tennessee Powers Past South Carolina To Earn SEC Championship

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Tennessee basketball led wire-to-wire and held off a late South Carolina charge to knock off the Gamecocks 66-59 and earn the outright regular season SEC Championship on Wednesday night.

The Vols defense was fantastic and Dalton Knecht carried the offense as the Vols avenged their loss earlier this season against the Gamecocks.

Here’s three quick takeaways on the win.

A Dominant Defensive Performance

Tennessee has still been a really good defensive team this season but has had a couple stretches of games where they haven’t been elite. But it’s championship time and after Tennessee played one of its best defensive games of the season against Alabama on Saturday the Vols followed it up with another dominant defensive performance.

The Vols came out with incredible intensity on the defensive end of the court but South Carolina found a way to get some early offensive rebounds and second chance points.

But Tennessee tightened up on the glass and locked up South Carolina in the back half of the game’s opening 20 minutes. The Gamecocks scored just five points in the final 7:30 of the first half as Tennessee closed the half on a 16-5 run to take a double-digit lead into the halftime break.

After South Carolina’s post presence gave Tennessee issues in the first meeting, the Vols rose to the occasion in a physical game. Tobe Awaka and Jonas Aidoo stood up Gamecock big men but so did Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi in certain situations.

The Vols held South Carolina to just 59 points in the game on under 40% shooting from the field, under 30% shooting from three point range and less than one point per possession.

More From RTI: Dalton Knecht And Josiah-Jordan James The Perfect Wing Duo For Tennessee Basketball

Knecht Carries The Offense On A Slow Night

South Carolina is a really good defensive team and it becomes harder to crack its defense on a night when the officials are letting both teams play.

That led to a quiet night for Tennessee’s offense, but the Vols’ leading scorer Dalton Knecht led the way.

Knecht propelled Tennessee to its offensive spurt to end the first half by making three consecutive triples for a 9-0 run of his own. But when Knecht went cold early in the second half, that’s where Tennessee’s offense struggled and South Carolina was able to fight back.

Aidoo hit three mid range jumpers early and while he struggled to get great looks at the rim off post ups, gave Tennessee 14 points on six-of-13 shooting. Zeigler was the only other Vol to total double digits, tallying 13 points to go along with seven assists.

But it was still Knecht who did the bulk of the offensive damage for Tennessee on the offensive end. His four point play with just over 10 minutes to play that helped spark the Vols out of their offensive slump and extended its lead back to double digits.

Knecht led all scorers with 26 points and did it on nine-of-23 shooting from the field and five-of-11 shooting from three-point range.

Tennessee Survives On The Glass

South Carolina is one of the SEC’s best rebounding teams and, as previously mentioned, early in the game it looked like the Gamecocks might give Tennessee issues on the glass.

But the Vols responded to that early stretch and rebounded the ball about as well as they have all season given the opponent. South Carolina earned a tight 40-38 rebounding advantage over the course of the game including a narrow 12-10 advantage on the offensive end of the court.

As is typically the case on solid rebounding nights, a number of players stepped up for Tennessee. Aidoo led the way with nine boards while James added six and even Zeigler added five rebounds.

The worst stretch of the game for Tennessee on the glass came during South Carolina’s late push when the Gamecocks scored seven points on second chance opportunities including two off an offensive rebound.

Tennessee has struggled in physical, rebounding games this season. For most the game, they answered the bell on the road in a championship clash.

Final Stats

Up Next

Tennessee returns to Knoxville for Saturday’s regular season final against Kentucky. Tipoff from Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center is at 7 p.m. ET. CBS is broadcasting the game.

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