South Carolina stayed within striking distance early but fell apart in the second half in its 81-57 loss to the No. 22 ranked Tennessee Volunteers.
A combination of poor perimeter defense, costly turnovers and an overall underwhelming comeback effort led to South Carolina’s eventual second-half collapse.
The Gamecocks struggled to contain the Volunteers’ shooters in both halves as the Volunteers went 6-12 and 8-15 in the first and second halves. Despite this, Carolina only trailed 29-33 at the half.
Ultimately, it was the timeliness of the Volunteers' three-pointers and the Gamecocks' turnovers that put the game away.
“They’re a physical team, they set physical screens and run their floppy action with precision, but that isn’t what beat us,” senior guard Erik Stevenson said. “There was that little run they had in the second half, where Ziegler had back-to-back threes on the left wing in transition off our turnovers. You can’t give a team like that too many easy looks like it.”
South Carolina had 13 turnovers, with eight of them coming in the second half. Meanwhile, Tennessee had eight, with three in the second half. This difference in ball security hurt the Gamecocks’ comeback attempt.
While the Volunteers were on fire from outside, the Gamecocks were unable to see much success beyond the arc. The team hit 5-19 of its three-pointers for the game. This poor outside shooting performance was mitigated early on by its physical play inside.
In the first half, the Gamecocks played a physical style successfully. Of the team's 29 first-half points, 14 came in the paint and seven came at the free-throw line. However, South Carolina's energy quickly diminished in the second half.
“We had deflating plays in the second half,” head coach Frank Martin said. “Now guys kinda drop their heads and as soon as you drop your head against a top 20 team, they’re gonna score.”
Statistically, the Gamecocks' effort on the glass was there as Tennessee only ended up winning the rebound battle 34-38. However, the change in energy became more apparent when looking at the field goals made throughout the second half.
South Carolina had multiple stretches in the second half where it would go minutes without registering a field goal. At one point, graduate forward AJ Wilson hit a layup, and the team followed that up with a six-minute field goal drought. During this stretch, the team missed four field goals. Stretches like this showcased coach Martin’s remarks on how the team got its morale late.
The Gamecocks' will take on No. 5 Kentucky at home at 7 p.m on Feb. 8. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.