The No.1 Tennessee Volunteers defended their top ranking for the third straight game by defeating South Carolina 92-70 on the road Tuesday night.
It was another rough start for the Vols as the officials set the tone early by calling a tight game. Tennessee (19-1, 7-0 SEC) was the most affected by the whistles, committing five personal fouls within the game’s first five minutes. Kyle Alexander was sent to the bench with two fouls before the under-16 media timeout and ultimately fouled out of the game in the second half. Lamonte Turner had three at halftime. However, the Vols quickly adjusted by only committing five fouls over the last fifteen minutes of the first half.
Jordan Bone gave Tennessee an early edge by setting the tempo and hitting timely shots. The junior put the Vols ahead 13-10 when he connected on a 3-point attempt directly after the first television timeout: a lead Tennessee wouldn’t relinquish. He finished the half with 10 points and six assists. Grant Williams led Tennessee in scoring with 17 points at halftime. Admiral Schofield contributed just four points as he continued to struggle with his outside shot. Yet, the Vols led 47-38 at the first buzzer.
The Vols had a similar fate in the second half. South Carolina (10-10, 5-2) clawed back to a two-point deficit, but Bone had other plans. In the midst of a sluggish stretch, the Vols’ point guard drove hard to the basket and earned two the hard way. His trip to the free-throw line gave Tennessee a 62-58 lead. Bone finished the game with 19 points, nine assists and three turnovers.
Not only were the Vols battling foul trouble, they were without an important contributor. Jordan Bowden sat on the bench and did not play. Our Trey Wallace reports that, according to the SEC Network, the junior “tweaked his knee” during warm-ups. Bowden is averaging 10.9 points while shooting 46 percent from the field.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the game was Schofield’s ability to make plays despite issues with his jump shot. His second half performance was a total contrast to the first 20 minutes. The senior found new ways to dominate as he consistently found work around the rim. Schofield shot 9-of-17 from the field. Four of those misses were from 3-point range. The forward found solace in close-range attempts and forceful drives. He feasted in the paint to the tune of nine rebounds while leading the Vols with 24 points for the game.
Chris Silva led the way for the Gamecocks with 28 points and 10 rebounds, but it was no match for a Tennessee team that kept its pace despite missing their best asset from the bench.
South Carolina couldn’t find an answer to the many problems the Vols presented. Turner even pitched in with 13 points with an efficient and punctual performance from distance. The junior, who started for the second straight game, went 3-of-6 from deep.
Overall, the performance from the No. 1 team in the country proved how versatile they are. The 92 points were the most given up by Frank Martin’s squad this season. The Gamecocks are known for their toughness, which mirrors their head coach’s attitude and philosophy. On Tuesday night, their grit didn’t stand a chance, even with a strong performance from their best player. The Vols showed they have a long line of options that are, at the very least, just as tough and undoubtedly way more problematic.
The win extends Tennessee’s streak to 15 games, its longest since 1917. Next, the Vols travel to College Station, Texas to face Texas A&M at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday.