Rick Barnes won’t forget the blowout loss at Alabama on Saturday, but his players should.
The Vols (18-6, 8-4 SEC) need to keep the feeling of embarrassment in the back of their minds, because South Carolina (13-12, 4-8 SEC) is rolling into town on Tuesday. Saturday’s demoralizing, 78-50 loss to the Crimson Tide loss snapped Tennessee’s six-game winning streak. It’s hard to beat any team while shooting under percent from the field, as the Vols found out the hard way. Now, Tennessee has a chance to sweep the season series against Frank Martin’s squad, who isn’t exactly playing up to par. The Gamecocks have lost five in a row, dropping to 11th in the conference in the process.
On the other side of things, the Vols are looking for a bounce-back game to break a second-place tie with Florida in the SEC standings. Tennessee trails Auburn by just two games, but Alabama and Missouri are breathing down the Vols’ necks at 7-5, with Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Texas A&M right behind them at 6-6. A loss tonight would put more heat on Tennessee than its had all season. The Vols had a target on their backs for a while, but it’s “grind time” for Tennessee with the SEC and NCAA Tournaments approaching.
The Gamecocks were a Final Four team last season, and despite struggles, Martin expects greatness from his team. South Carolina is starving for a win, and what better time for one than against a wounded Tennessee team? The Gamecocks likely won’t make the NCAA Tournament, but finishing the season on a strong note could shoot them up the SEC standings.
Tennessee won the first meeting in Columbia this year by a score of 70-63 behind Lamonte Turner’s 25-point performance. Tonight, expect the Gamecocks to prevent that type of scoring effort from Turner again, as opposing point guards have dominated their defense as of late.
Once again, all eyes will be on the matchup between Grant Williams and South Carolina big man Chris Silva. Silva was in foul trouble for most of the game in Columbia, but Williams steered clear of the whistle to put up 14 points. It will be interesting to see if South Carolina’s leading scorer (14.3 points per game) and rebounder (7.6 rebounds per game) can stay out of foul trouble in this meeting for what will be a Clash of the Titans down low.
Keeping the Gamecocks’ in the season’s earlier matchup was an array of 3-pointers, with 10 coming from Justin Minaya, Wesley Myers and Frank Booker. While South Carolina’s offensive struggles have increased lately, the Gamecocks have the talent to shoot well. Tennessee needs to set an early tone on defense and get back to what has won them 18 games this season. Most of all, the Vols need to compete. How Tennessee responds to Saturday’s brutal performance is the most intriguing headline of this game.
There’s no reason to overreact to the Alabama loss on Saturday. Maybe it was a good thing to suffer a bad loss this late in the season. Alabama, however, did exploit many Tennessee weaknesses, including the inability to handle extreme ball pressure and make tough shots, and I’m sure Frank Martin watched the film time and time again. South Carolina will be hungry for a win tonight, but Tennessee will be hungrier to bounce back from Saturday’s performance and regain its identity.
Tennessee 66, South Carolina 54