Jordan Bone flung a one-handed pass down the court at Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday night.
Tennessee led by 12 when the pass found Kyle Alexander running in stride perfectly. The Tennessee center smoothly dropped the ball back to Lamonte Turner, who was waiting a few feet away for an open shot. It was good and the Vols led by 15.
It was another one of those nights for the Vols. They traded early shots, ran away and took a double-digit SEC win that never really felt in question.
No. 1 Tennessee dismantled South Carolina for the second time this season, routing the Gamecocks 85-73 to set up a long-awaited clash with No. 5 Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Saturday.
“I know we have Kentucky next,” UT coach Rick Barnes said. “But I also know we have to start out with what did we not do well tonight and what do we have to do to try fix that before we think about Kentucky.”
Admiral Schofield led Tennessee (23-1, 11-0 SEC) with 21 points. Jordan Bowden had 16 as Tennessee won its 19th straight game and started 11-0 in SEC play for the first time in school history.
Alexander, Bone and Turner scored 10 each to down South Carolina (12-12, 7-4).
“We have so many pieces,” Schofield said. “We can go deep in our bench. That’s what makes us good. We are not just one person. We are not just a duo. We are a team.”
Grant Williams had eight points – his second-lowest output of the season. But he contributed nine rebounds and seven assists.
“You have to pick your poison with them,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “They’re balanced. … We were really zoned in on Grant. We said, ‘We are not going to let him beat us.’ He had seven assists.”
Turner’s 3-pointer early in the second half put Tennessee ahead 56-41. The lead grew to 19.
The Gamecocks stayed in the game behind impressive shooting. USC made 14 3-pointers, the most Tennessee has allowed this season. The Vols have given up at least 10 3-pointers in six of 11 SEC games.
USC got within 12 late in the second half behind a string of three straight 3-pointers.
But Tennessee held off the Gamecocks, never letting USC within single-digits despite its hot shooting.
“The biggest thing for us is mentally locking in for 40 minutes,” Schofield said. “We need to get better at that, especially when we have leads. We have had a lot of leads lately. We have to really lock in and respect the game at a whole ‘nother level.”
South Carolina made a flurry of first-half 3-pointers, putting Tennessee behind 15-12 less than seven minutes into the game.
Turner hit a 3-pointer to tie the game, then the Vols raced away from the Gamecocks with a huge first-half run like they did against Missouri and Florida.
Jalen Johnson made a four-point play and Tennessee never trailed again, rolling on a 21-3 run.
“It’s just doing what we do,” Schofield said of the long runs in recent games. “Coming out of the gate attacking. Getting the ball inside-out and competing on the defensive end, trying to eliminate possessions and guard the ball well.”
The Vols scored on dunks – Alexander from Bone running down the lane and Alexander putting back a Bowden miss. They made 3-pointers – Bowden and Schofield hitting one each during the run.
UT held South Carolina scoreless for 5:34 while they built a 33-18 lead that led to a 49-36 halftime margin.
The Vols were outscored in the second half by the Gamecocks, but still won by double-digits for the sixth straight game before facing the Wildcats.
“The biggest thing for us is just locking in tomorrow, preparing our bodies and getting our minds back on track,” Schofield said. “Worrying about Friday after Thursday and Saturday after Friday.”
Masked Yves Pons
Forward Yves Pons returned after missing Saturday’s win against Florida following surgery.
He checked in with 6:55 to play in the first half wearing a protective mask. He played three minutes.
Pons suffered a facial fracture in practice last Thursday.
Tennessee faces No. 5 Kentucky on Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN) at Rupp Arena.
Published 9:53 PM EST Feb 13, 2019