No. 21 Tennessee handed South Carolina their seventh loss of the season Saturday night when the Volunteers won 70-63.
The game was physical from tipoff, as both teams were focused on setting the tone of the game. Tennessee played tough defense and didn't allow easy shots. South Carolina did much of the same, disrupting Tennessee on offense. Each side was having to earn their points by either running out the shot clock or going to the free throw line.
"They play really good on the ball too; they give you good pressure," Forward Justin Minaya said, who finished with his season-high 16 points in conference play. "Our guards could've done a better job attacking off the dribble and getting into the lane a little bit more."
Guard Wesley Myers agreed, also referencing Tennessee's physical play.
"You could say they kind of played our style," Myers said. "It was a tough battle, we knew coming into the game it was going to be a dogfight."
The game opened up with a back and forth defensive battle as the sides tried to figure each other out. The Gamecocks' only lead of the game came in the very first minute after Myers' free throw.
From that point on, the Gamecocks were battling to close the gap. USC finished the first half trailing 33-30 with only eight points scored in the paint, something Tennessee was denying all night long. Junior forward Chris Silva sat for most of the first half with two quick fouls.
Frank Martin knows just how important Silva is to his team and noted that his play Saturday night was not characteristic of the Silva he knows.
"We got freshman year Chris in practice yesterday, we got freshman year Chris in the game today," Martin said. "Completely disconnected from what we were doing. It's a shame, because he's worked hard and he's been real good for us all season."
The second half played out similarly to the first. Tennessee dominated in the paint and didn't allow South Carolina to run their offense. The Gamecocks found a bit more success behind the arc, but were manhandled in the paint with the Volunteers outscoring the Gamecocks 32-16.
South Carolina finished the second half shooting 46 percent from three, but only managed 58 percent from the free throw line. In a seven-point game, missing 10 free throws can be the difference in winning and losing.
"Tennessee doesn't let you pass the ball, so that's why we were trying to spread them out," Martin said. "The game came down to they guarded better than we did ... We won the rebounding battle; we didn't play bad offense, we just couldn't score."
Tennessee's Lamonte Turner was the Gamecocks achilles heel all night long. Turner finished with 25 points and was perfect from behind the arc and the free throw line. Turner found ways to get past the guards of South Carolina and either score or draw a foul.
"We couldn't guard Lamonte Turner off the bounce. Just couldn't keep him," Martin said. "We tried everything. Give him credit, a three-year guy, he's been through it, he's played and he understands. He made some real, real good basketball plays today."
The Gamecocks head to Gainesville on Wednesday to take on Florida.