Tennessee was inbounding the ball under South Carolina’s basket with 10 seconds left on the game clock and four on the shot clock as the Vols clung to a one-point lead. Tennessee threw the entry pass into the backcourt where Santiago Vescovi saved the ball to Jordan Bowden, whose 35-footer fell short as the shot clock expired.
South Carolina’s A.J. Lawson took off and went coast-to-coast before running into John Fulkerson, committing a game deciding charge.
It was a sequence that defined the Vols 56-55 win over South Carolina: chaotic, ugly and terribly executed offense.
“Our guys really did try to play hard,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “There were a lot of things that we didn’t do right, but the effort was one of the first steps we had to get. Now we know we have to get better taking care of the basketball.”
Tennessee shot just 26% from the field and 19% from beyond the arch while turning the ball over 19 times. It was the Vols all-around worst offensive performance of the season.
“I feel like we have to do a better job of handling pressure,” Josiah-Jordan James said. “We just missed a lot of open shots. … It just wasn’t a good shooting day for all of us in general, but moving ahead we’re going to keep taking good shots and hope they fall.”
Tennessee’s point guards combined for 10 turnovers and just three assists in the win as Vescovi turned it over seven times in 23 minutes and James turned it over three times.
The duo also dealt with foul trouble as James picked up his fourth foul with 14:55 left in the game and Vescovi picked up his fourth with 9:09 left.
The duo wasn’t helped by Jordan Bowden as the Vols’ starting guard struggled to find the basket Saturday afternoon. The Knoxville native scored six points on 1-for-17 shooting from the field while turning the ball over three times.
Somehow Tennessee survived the foul trouble in the second half making a run midway through the half that turned the tide of the game. South Carolina led 39-31 with 13:31 left.
Vescovi scored six points as the Vols went on a 7-0 run that turned into a 14-4 run taking a 45-41 lead into the last nine minutes of the game. The run was fueled by the Vols getting into the bonus. Nine of the Vols' 14 points on the run came at the charity stripe as Vescovi added a 3-pointer and Fulkerson finished a layup.
Tennessee combined its reliable free throw shooting (the Vols shot 22 of 28 at the line) with a lockdown defensive effort to hold off the Gamecocks down the stretch. During Tennessee’s 14-2 run the Gamecocks shot 0 of 11 from the field.
“It was big because shots weren’t falling,” Fulkerson said of the Vols’ ability to get in the bonus early. “Getting to the free throw line is, hopefully, points we can count on. I think that was really important.”
South Carolina shot just 33% from the field and 15% from 3-point range as the Vols grinded out a win down the stretch.
Fulkerson led the way for Tennessee hitting 5 of 7 shots from the field and all five of his free throws recording a 15-point, 10 rebound, double-double. Senior Maik Kotsar led the Gamecocks with 17 points.
“He had a tough matchup today,” Barnes said of Fulkerson. “Two older guys on the floor going at each other and it’s a tough matchup. … If he can give us a double-double every night that’s what we need from him, in some way we need more.”
“He was all over the place and we definitely couldn’t have won this game without him,” James said. “His play was tremendous, and we just need him to keep building it.”
Tennessee will look to keep its two-game win streak going Wednesday night when the Vols travel to Athens to take on Georgia. Tip-off from Stegman Colliseum is set for 7 p.m. ET.