Tennessee responded to its 78-65 weekend loss at LSU with an explosive offensive performance against South Carolina that led to a 93-73 win.
The game between Tennessee and South Carolina was supposed to take place on Tuesday but due to a COVID-19 positive test in the Tennessee program, the game would be delayed to Wednesday so additional testing could be done. After three negative tests, it was deemed that the positive was a false positive which cleared all of Tennessee’s players for the game.
“We decided whatever we got we're going to go play, ” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “That was our focus in practice the last couple of days."
Tennessee had two changes to its starting lineup coming off of the loss to LSU. Josiah Jordan James was out with a wrist injury and John Fulkerson entered in his place. Victor Bailey made his return to the starting lineup in place of Santiago Vescovi as well. The move would pay dividends for Tennessee.
South Carolina was on fire offensively in the first half. The Gamecocks went seven-for-11 from the three-point line for a crisp 63% and at one point were 77% from behind the three-point line.
A.J. Lawson and T.J. Moss led South Carolina in scoring in the first half, both with 10 points.
Lawson had his 10 points on 44% shooting from the field along with going two for three from behind the three-point line.
Moss went four-for-six from the floor and two for three from behind the three-point line for his 10 points. He also accounted for two assists.
Unfortunately for South Carolina, its offensive output wouldn’t be nearly enough to hang with Tennessee long term.
Tennessee received an offensive resurgence from Bailey tonight. He had 14 points in the first half on four of seven shooting from behind the three-point line while also going two for two from the free-throw line.
“Santi(ago Vescovi) not being able to practice really helped Victor Bailey get comfortable in this lineup,” Barnes said. “Santi didn't practice until the shoot around today.”
Jaden Springer would also have an efficient first half, going two-for-four from the field and six-for-six from the free-throw line for 10 points. He also accounted for three rebounds and three assists.
Tennessee turned over South Carolina 12 times in the first half and was able to score 16 points off those turnovers.
Tennessee was able to score 50 first-half points on the back of shooting 53% from the field and 46% from the three-point line. Tennessee was also able to go a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
The way Tennessee played in the first half is something I’m sure the coaches hope they can replicate down the stretch for the rest of the season. Tennessee was clicking on all cylinders.
The second half would be more of the same for Tennessee as it became a freight train that South Carolina couldn’t stop.
Bailey had 15 second-half points and would finish with 29 points on seven-of-10 shooting from behind the three-point line along with 56% from the field and four assists.
For Bailey, 29 points was a career-high in points scored.
“It's always great to see some shots go down, ” Bailey said. “ I appreciate my teammates for hyping me up.”
Springer finished with 16 points on 50% shooting while going eight-for-eight from the free-throw line. He also finished with three rebounds and five assists.
Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant would continue to try and put South Carolina on their back in the second half.
Lawson finished with 20 points and four rebounds on 40% shooting from the field and the three-point line.
Bryant finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and three steals. However, he did have seven costly turnovers and a critical technical foul on Springer that broke any will South Carolina had left.
What pushed Tennessee towards such success was the combined play of Yves Pons and Fulkerson.
"We need them both to be aggressive, and that's not just offensively, ” Barnes said “That's defensively and rebounding too."
Pons had 10 points on five-of-six shooting from the field along with nine rebounds and two steals.
Fulkerson had his best statistical game of the season tonight as he had 19 points on seven-of-12 shooting from the field and five-of-seven shooting from the free-throw line. He also had six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
“Tonight felt great, ” Fulkerson said. “I want to thank my teammates and coaches for keeping the faith in me and keeping confidence in me, and pushing me to be my best.”
Tonight was a return to form for the senior duo and it couldn’t have come at a better time for an inconsistent Tennessee team.
“I think our best is yet to come, we haven't put a full game together, ” Bailey said. “ Once that happens we’ll be very tough to beat.”
Tennessee will be back in action on Saturday when Kentucky comes to Thompson-Boling Arena for a 1 p.m. ET tipoff on CBS.