After a tough 84-79 overtime loss on the road to Vanderbilt on Jan. 3, the South Carolina men’s basketball team entered its SEC home opener craving a win but failed to keep up with the No. 8 Tennessee Volunteers in an 85-42 loss on Saturday.
The Volunteers, led by head coach Rick Barnes, started the game on a hot streak, commanding an early lead, and continued to be a controlling force throughout the game.
“Overall, defensively, we knew that we wanted to come out and really try to make it difficult for South Carolina to score,” Barnes said. “I thought early, we did have some good gap help to help those guys, but overall it was a great effort.”
Volunteer senior forward Olivier Nkamhoua dominated on offense with 11 points in the first half and 10 in the second on his way to a double-double.
“When he plays well is really when he gets locked into doing anything other than thinking about scoring,” Barnes said. “I would not only say that about Olivier, but I would say that about anyone on the team.”
The Gamecocks struggled offensively throughout the game, scoring just 21 points in each half and shooting 25% from the field.
Sophomore guard Meechie Johnson helped lead the way for South Carolina in points with 19, but it wasn't enough to ever take the lead. In his first 13 games as a Gamecock, Johnson has scored 158 points and added 45 assists.
“Even though this was a tough loss, I think there's a lot of good things to take from it, to learn from,” Johnson said. “We do have practice tomorrow, so pretty sure we are going to have some tape and film to watch on this that could have been better to stay in the game.”
The Gamecocks struggled as a team by committing 11 fouls, making simple errors and missing passes. South Carolina also suffered from defensive lapses, allowing Tennessee to control the pace for the majority of the game.
Graduate student forward Hayden Brown, who scored 6 points and assisted on one basket for the Gamecocks, credited experience as an advantage for the Volunteers.
“Credit to Tennessee and Coach Barnes for what they do, because what they do, they do it well,” Brown said. “They've got some older guys, some veteran guys on that team, and they know how to win. They know what winning looks like.”
On the South Carolina side, inexperience showed. Highly touted freshman forward GG Jackson struggled throughout the game, scoring 0 points in his 22 minutes of action. For Jackson, the youngest player on the team, head coach Lamont Paris hopes the game will prove to be a valuable learning opportunity in the forward's transition to the college game.
“It was a physical game. For young guys in general, that can be difficult. For him, particularly, that's how guys are going to try to guard him and make his life miserable,” Paris said. “I think oftentimes he defaults to the jump shot, like a lot of guys do. Again, this was a game where you probably sometimes have to put your head down and tell someone where you're going and not ask for permission."
The Gamecocks (7-8, 0-2 SEC) have now dropped both of their SEC contests but look to rebound when they travel to Lexington, Kentucky, to face the Kentucky Wildcats on Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.