After the game, Devon Baulkman said he knew this Tennessee team could score, that wasn’t the problem. Keeping their opponent off the board is where the Vols have struggled this year.
That wasn’t the case on Saturday night.
Tennessee held No. 24 South Carolina to 41 percent shooting, including 28 percent from behind the 3-point line on its way to a 78-69 redemption win in Thompson-Boiling Arena.
“Everybody’s mind was on defense,” Baulkman said of the second half. “We have a lot of scorers, so we don’t have to worry about scoring the ball. Once we get this defense down, we can be pretty good.”
The Vols really honed in on Sindarius Thornwell, the Gamecocks leading scorer for the season. The junior guard averaged 12.1 points per game coming into the contest, but Tennessee was able to make him a non-factor throughout the game.
His only two points came on a meaningless layup with under a minute to go in the game, as the Vols harassed him with constant pressure to get him out of rhythm. He was 1-of-8 from the field, including 0-of-3 from behind the 3-point line.
Tennessee constantly rotated its defenders, meaning that no one man was responsible for Thornwell, but the message remained the same: match the Gamecocks’ intensity.
“We had so many guys in and out of the game that we would have different matchups,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “It was just different guys. We do a lot of switching and we scramble a lot on defense. Somedays guys just don’t make shots and things just don’t fall their way.”
Spotlight: Kyle Alexander was only on the floor for eight minutes Saturday afternoon, but that didn’t stop the 6-foot-9 forward from impacting the game.
In those eight minutes he grabbed six rebounds, tying a career high, and pulled down three boards on the offensive end. Alexander hadn’t grabbed more than two rebounds in a game since Dec. 19 against Gonzaga, and any production he gives them is crucial on a team that doesn’t start a player taller than 6-foot-5.
In the first half he grabbed a missed shot from Armani Moore and went up over the defender, hitting the layup despite the foul for his only two points of the game.
The Gamecocks play a physical brand of basketball, and his teammates were proud of the way the true freshman responded to that physicality.
“He played pretty good,” senior guard Kevin Punter said. “He get his hands on some balls and got some key rebounds. He fought. That’s what we know he’s going to do when he comes in. He’s going to fight you.”
The other guys: With Thornwell struggling for most of the game, the Gamecocks turned to Michael Carrera for production. The senior scored 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting and knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to keep South Carolina in the game. He also led the team in rebounds with eight.
Duane Notice added 14 points for South Carolina off the bench, including a couple triples, and Chris Silva was the final Gamecock in double figures with 11 points and five boards.
Outside the box score: Saturday’s matchup was the first time Tennessee has hosted a ranked South Carolina team since Feb. 7, 1998. This was the Vols’ first win against a ranked team since Jan. 13, 2015 when Tennessee beat No. 19 Arkansas in TBA.
By the numbers:
40: South Carolina scored 40 points in the paint, compared to just 14 for the Vols.
94: Tennessee shot 94 percent from the free throw line, hitting 30-of-32. The Vols were 16-of-16 in the second half, with Punter connecting on 14-of-15 from the charity stripe.
75: After hitting 1-of-9 from 3-point range in the first half, Tennessee shot 75 percent from behind the line after the break, hitting 9-of-12 shots. Punter was 5-of-6 from deep in the second half.