They crowded Admiral Schofield into a turnover on one possession, forced an air ball on the next and drew a foul on the next.
The South Carolina Gamecocks knew what they were getting into at Thompson-Boling Arena. A main reason behind Tennessee’s No. 1 ranking was a roster stacked in offensive riches. The Volunteers, from Schofield on the wing to Grant Williams in the post to Jordan Bone on the perimeter, pose threats from every angle.
But let the record state that USC made three consecutive stops Wednesday night. It happened over a tiny stretch of the first half that easily gets lost in the Vols’ 85-73 win before an orange-clad crowd of almost 20,000.
South Carolina (12-12, 7-4 SEC) did a ton of things well Wednesday. It’s just that it needed a flawless performance to beat these Vols (23-1, 11-0). They’ve won 19 straight because they don’t get fazed by a two-minute drought in a 40-minute game. It’s that kind of relentless pursuit that should serve UT well come the postseason.
Five Volunteers scored in double figures as they overcame a dazzling shooting performance from Carolina.
“They’re a hard matchup for us,” said USC coach Frank Martin. “I was real proud of the fight. Obviously we made shots so when you make shots, it kind of hides some deficiencies.”
South Carolina made a season-best 14 3-pointers, but never was within single digits after the nine-minute mark of the first half. That streak of defensive stops? The Gamecocks never turned any of them into points themselves.
“That was very crucial,” said Chris Silva, who scored 17 points and grabbed a game-high 15 boards. “They’re a disciplined team, so when we get stops, we gotta convert them. Because if you don’t, they’re gonna come right back at us.”
The Volunteers’ snapped their brief scoring spell with a Kyle Alexander dunk, followed by a Jordan Bowden 3. Alexander (fouled out in 10 minutes) and Bowden (injured) were no-shows in UT’s 92-70 rout of USC on Jan. 29. Two weeks later, they reminded the Gamecocks what the Vols look like at full-strength.
Ten of the duo’s 26 points came during a 19-3 UT run that all but put the game away by halftime.
Schofield led all scorers with 21 points, Bowden had 16 and Alexander, Bone and Lamonte Turner finished with 10 apiece for the Vols. Tennessee reached 80 points for the 17th time this season.
“You gotta pick your poison with them,” Martin said. “They’re balanced. I had people ask me a couple years ago, when we had that kind of balance on our team, ‘Who’s your go-to guy?’ ‘We got a go-to team.’
“That’s what they got.”
Grant Williams, a likely candidate to be SEC Player of the Year for a second straight season, was held to eight points — but dished out a game-high seven assists.
“We were really zoned in on Grant,” Martin said. “We said, ‘We’re not going to let him beat us.’ And he had seven assists.
“They’re good. Hard matchup for us.”
South Carolina got improved guard play from Round 1 with the Vols. Tre Campbell (19 points) and Hassani Gravett (15) kept the Gamecocks afloat with a combined nine 3s on 11 attempts. But the backcourt received little help from the frontcourt, save Silva.
Keyshawn Bryant, Maik Kotsar and Felipe Haase totaled 13 points and seven rebounds.
“We’re a one-man rebounding team,” Martin said. “I can’t get Kotsar, Keyshawn, Felipe, I can’t get them to help Chris on the glass.”
USC returns to Columbia to host Texas A&M (10-13, 3-8) on Saturday.
SOUTH CAROLINA (12-12)
Bryant 2-7 1-2 5, Kotsar 2-4 0-0 4, Silva 6-13 3-4 17, Lawson 3-8 1-2 9, T.Campbell 7-12 0-0 19, Haase 1-5 1-2 4, Frink 0-3 0-0 0, Gravett 5-11 1-2 15. Totals 26-63 7-12 73.
Williams 4-8 0-0 8, Schofield 9-19 1-1 21, Alexander 5-11 0-0 10, Turner 4-8 0-0 10, Bone 3-7 4-4 10, Pons 0-0 0-0 0, Fulkerson 2-2 2-2 6, Johnson 1-1 1-1 4, Bowden 6-13 0-0 16. Totals 34-69 8-8 85.
Halftime: Tennessee 49-36. 3-Point Goals_South Carolina 14-23 (T.Campbell 5-5, Gravett 4-6, Silva 2-3, Lawson 2-5, Haase 1-3, Bryant 0-1), Tennessee 9-20 (Bowden 4-6, Schofield 2-4, Turner 2-6, Johnson 1-1, Bone 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds: South Carolina 30 (Silva 15), Tennessee 39 (Schofield 10). Assists: South Carolina 17 (Lawson 6), Tennessee 22 (Williams 7). Total Fouls: South Carolina 9, Tennessee 10. Attendance: 19,407 (21,678).
Who: Texas A&M at South Carolina
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: SEC Network