Tennessee men’s basketball will be looking for it first weekend victory since late Jan. 18, when they travel to South Carolina this Saturday. The Vols are coming off a 21-point win over Arkansas, while the Gamecocks defeated Georgia in their last outing.
The two teams meet earlier this year on Jan. 11 in Thompson-Boling Arena, in which Tennessee defeated South Carolina 65-55. The climax of the game was John Fulkerson drawing a charge with 1.4 seconds remaining, giving the Vols possession and sealing the game.
Since that game, the Gamecocks have gone on tear, winning seven of their last nine games. Among the wins were an upset over No. 10 Kentucky and a road win against the Razorbacks in a notoriously tough environment to play like Bud Walton Arena. Coming into this game, South Carolina holds 7-4 record in conference and is currently tied for fourth place, putting the Gamecocks squarely in the hunt for a double-bye in the upcoming SEC tournament.
Key players to watch for South Carolina will be senior forward Maik Kotsar, who leads the team in rebounds, and sophomore guard A.J. Lawson, who seems to have hit stride coming into this matchup.
“They’re playing fast” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes “which I think there’s a misconception that they like to play slow and grind it, which they can, but they’re playing much faster. Their guards are playing really well. I think they’ve run a spread game where they’re doing a great job of working the elbow areas and the nail area … getting good play from everyone. They are a team that really have to defend them in transition.”
The Vols have played well on defense since entering conference play, as evidenced by leading the SEC in both block and scoring defense. Most notable is junior forward Yves Pons, who in addition to registering a block in every game, leads the conference and ranks No. 20 in the nation in blocks. The offensive star of the team in recent week has been freshman guard Santiago Vescovi, who scored 20 points on 60% shooting in most recent game for Tennessee. Finally, the most well rounded for the Vols in the recent weeks has been Fulkerson, and he will likely be key for Tennessee in this game.
“After we got started,” Barnes said referring to the Arkansas game “I thought we were fluid on offense. I do think that happened. Obviously (Vescovi) is getting more settled in. Honestly, knowing how (Fulkerson) felt, that’s what jumped out because he was able to do somethings that we weren’t sure he would be able to do. But overall, I thought everyone, for the most part, that went into the game did some really good things.”
Finally, the Vols appear to be in good shape, health-wise. Fulkerson, who played last game with flu-like symptoms, is back with the team, although Jalen Johnson is mildly sick according to Barnes. Additionally, Josiah-Jordan Jordan appears to be close to back in action, having participated in practice this week, but Barnes said he is still day-today.
Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. on the SEC Network and Vol Network.