Having won six games in a row before Saturday’s loss in Tuscaloosa, the Tennessee men’s basketball team had yet to suffer a defeat by as large of a margin as that in their 78-50 defeat all season.
Set to host the South Carolina Gamecocks at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday, the Vols will be looking to tack on their 11th home victory as the regular season nears its close.
When speaking with reporters Monday, head coach Rick Barnes was asked to liken the loss to earlier defeats against Arkansas and Auburn, and he was stern.
“We watched tape and worked on our bodies yesterday,” Barnes said. “We’ll get in practice today and see how we respond.”
The Gamecocks come in having lost five consecutive games, three of which were in their own building, and having failed to reach above 65 points in four of those contests.
As it stands, South Carolina (13-12, 4-8 SEC) ranks in the bottom half of the SEC, putting up 69 points on 39.5 percent shooting.
Led by freshman Chris Silva, the Gamecocks boast a scoring margin of +1.2 and shoot 3-pointers at a 32 percent clip. They are also 4-5 on the road this season, an area in which Tennessee has mostly thrived, compiling a 6-3 record away from home.
Tennessee, on the other hand, is one of the stoutest defensive teams in the nation, giving up just 67.2 points per game while allowing opponents to shoot just 41 percent from the field and 33 percent from the 3-point line.
While the Vols have experienced a fair amount of success as of late, Barnes feels that his team still struggles with moving on from big performances such as their victory at Rupp Arena nearly a week ago.
“Once you have a big game, that one is over with,” Barnes said. “Even if you have success, you have to get better.”
Junior Kyle Alexander, who has come alive on the defensive end, believes that has become one of Tennessee’s primary focuses as the SEC Tournament looms.
“That’s one of our goals,” Alexander said. “After every game when we go into the film room, they put up a list of our goals. We just try to hold ourselves accountable.”
South Carolina is tied for the second-worst record in the conference and is riding a league-high losing streak. On the other hand, the Vols are coming off of their worst defeat of the year and have yet to lose two consecutive games since Jan. 2.
Currently tied for second in the SEC with archrival Florida, Tennessee controls its own destiny, as the final stretch of regular season play has now arrived.
Despite history being on their side, Barnes said that the Vols have set their focus on upcoming practices, attempting to seize opportunities to improve with every practice. Holding each other accountable and working hard are his primary messages.
“You just have to come in and do your job every day,” Barnes said.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m., and the game will be broadcast live on ESPNU.