Another high-scoring game for its opponent led to the Gamecock men’s basketball team losing its matchup with the Tennessee Volunteers 93-73 Wednesday night.
The game started with each team going back and forth. South Carolina hit three out of five 3-pointers in the first five minutes. Eight of the team’s first 11 points came from junior guard AJ Lawson. He kept the team in the game early on by hitting two 3-pointers.
By the seven minute mark, South Carolina was shooting 7-9. Tennessee struggled from deep, shooting 4-11. This allowed South Carolina to keep the game close.
If the Gamecocks had not turned the ball over nine times, they would have jumped out to a large lead. Tennessee capitalized off those turnovers, scoring 14 points to lead 35-29 with five minutes to go in the half.
“Scoring points has not been a problem for this team. Our inability to eliminate turnovers and floor spacing has been a problem for this team,” Gamecock head coach Frank Martin said postgame.
The Gamecocks did not hit another 3-pointer for the rest of the first half. This put the Gamecocks behind. They relied on their 3-point shooting early to match Tennessee's offense.
The team shot 14-21 from the field and 4-4 from the free-throw line by halftime. Twelve turnovers allowed Tennessee to get easy points.
Freshman guard Jaden Springer beat the halftime buzzer with a pull-up shot from the top of the key over three Gamecocks, sending the Volunteers to halftime with a 50-39 lead.
Tennessee's free-throw shooting and 16 points off turnovers gave them the advantage at halftime.
The teams started off pretty evenly the first 10 minutes of the second half. South Carolina shot 47%, while Tennessee shot 54%. Tennessee turned the ball over seven times keeping South Carolina in reach.
The Gamecocks never managed to make a run to get back in it. In the middle of the second half the team managed to cut Tennessee's lead to seven, but it got into foul trouble, putting Tennessee in the double-bonus with over five minutes left.
“They just came down and scored, we committed some of the worst fouls I’ve ever seen anyone commit,” Martin said.
South Carolina's inability to get stops on the defensive end at the end of the game sealed the deal. Tennessee went on a 12-0 run late in the second half to put the game away. South Carolina only scored four points in the last five minutes. The Gamecocks only made one field goal during that stretch.
“When they get on a run like that, it’s hard to stop a team on the road, and they’re already a good team,” Lawson said.
The Volunteers shot 54% for the night. They got 20 points from the free-throw line and scored 25 points off 18 South Carolina turnovers.
The Gamecocks 3-point shooting from the first seven minutes did not last. South Carolina finished 10-24 from three. They shot 40% from the field in the game.
Volunteer junior guard Victor Bailey Jr. carried the offensive load for the Volunteers. He scored 29 points and dished out four assists. Volunteer senior forward John Fulkerson added 19 points and six rebounds. Springer scored 16 points and had five assists.
For the Gamecocks, Lawson scored 20 points. Junior forward Keyshawn Bryant scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
The Gamecocks gave up its third 90-plus point game of the season. South Carolina allowed at least 80 points seven times this season. All of those games were in SEC play.
“Biggest problem we got is we got no personality defensively,” Martin said. “Our desire to defend and to sustain effort is not what it needs to be.”
South Carolina falls to 5-10 on the season and 3-8 in the SEC. The Gamecocks will host No. 20 Missouri on Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. on ESPN2.