Vols Top South Carolina, Remain Perfect in Conference Play

For the first twenty-seven minutes of the game, Chris Silva and the South Carolina Gamecocks gave the Tennessee Volunteers all they could handle. Off a 6-0 run and a once healthy Tennessee lead suddenly whittled to just two, the fans threatened to tear the roof of Colonial Life Arena off. Yet like a seasoned prizefighter, the experienced-laden Volunteers responded with a knockout punch to the tune of a 32-12 closing run. With a resounding 92-70 victory, Tennessee finds itself atop the SEC standings seven games into league play.

A Lively Crowd Wakes the Beast

Admiral Schofield sure does love to play on the road. Mired in a shooting slump that saw him hitting only 25% from the floor over his last three games, THE Admiral woke up and woke up big. He finished with a game-high 24 — 20 coming in second half in front of a black-clad USC crowd. He continued to splash jumpers late into the second half and long after Tennessee had broken the will of Gamecocks crowd and team intent on “burying the No.1 team in the nation” (much to the disappointment of Ryan Hilinski). It was the first time Schofield scored more than 20 points since Tennessee’s victory over Memphis in mid-December.

When Schofield and Grant Williams both have it going on the offensive end, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one-two punch in college basketball. Williams finished with an equally impressive 23 and 9, once again flashing an impressive array of offensive tricks (post up jumpers, drop step finishes, put backs). Schofield remained cold from the three point line (1-5), but got back to his bread and butter of creating offense from the low-post.

Chris Silva Throws the First Punch

Even with a nine point halftime lead, Rick Barnes couldn’t have been very happy with his team. A game plan predicated upon slowing down Gamecocks center Chris Silva went off the rails with Kyle Alexander’s second foul three minutes into the game. Silva had his way with any defender thrown his way, as the talented big man scored 22 points in a dominant first half. Fortunately for the Vols, Grant Williams put on a show of his own to pace the Vols through an up and down first half.

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Chris Silva scores over Kyle Alexander. Photo via The State

The Vols continued to throw bodies at Silva throughout the second half — a strategy that ultimately proved successful. After the highest scoring half of his career, Silva scored only six points the rest of the way. John Fulkerson and Derrick Walker provided some meaningful minutes and defense off the bench in Alexander’s absence. Speaking of the Vols bench. . .

A Key Reserve’s Absence Doesn’t Slow the UT Attack

The surprise news of the night broke right around tip-off with the announcement that key reserve Jordan Bowden would miss tonight’s contest with what Tennessee called a strained knee. Nonetheless, not even the absence of the SEC’s leading bench scorer prevented Tennessee from nearly hitting the century market for the third time this season.

Barnes started Tennessee’s other secret weapon off the bench, junior Lamonte Turner, for the second straight game. The reigning SEC Sixth Man of the Year responded with double-digits in scoring for the third time in his last five games. He once again reminded Tennessee fans why Barnes stressed his importance after he missed 9 of Tennessee’s first 12 games to start the season.

Even with an undermanned second unit, the Vols starters picked up the scoring slack. Four of the five starters (Jordan Bone, Turner, Schofield and Williams) scored in double figures. A healthy Bowden added into the mix likely makes Tennessee the best-scoring team in the country not named Duke.

Momentum-Changing Play(s)

Nearly halfway through the second half and clinging to a 65-61, the Vols responded with consecutive threes to push their lead back out to double digits. Lamonte Turner got loose for an open three from the left wing, and Admiral Schofield drained a three from the opposite corner the next trip down. This prompted Frank Martin to call a quick timeout. No matter. USC scored a basket out of the timeout, but Turner responded with an acrobatic up and under.  USC would never get closer than four. A hotly contested game late into the second half turned into a sudden bloodbath with the Cocks’ running into a buzzsaw.

Player of the Game

Schofield’s cold-shooting had many speculating that the recent influx of NBA scouts in attendance left the senior pressing. He responded with 9 rebounds to go with his highest-scoring game in over a month. More importantly, he shot the ball in rhythm and never appeared to lack confidence even after he missed on his first 3 attempts. An all-around solid night by the unquestioned ALPHA of this Volunteers team seems to have the senior scorer back on track.

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Photo: Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel caption

WRAP-UP

The Vols perfect 7-0 record to start conference play is the best since the 1981-1982 team opened with eight straight victories. Tennessee also matched a school record by winning its fifteenth straight game. The Vols travel to College Station on Saturday to face Texas A&M (8-10 on the season). Tip-off is set for 7 CST on ESPN.

Like Tennessee basketball? Check back all season for previews, recaps, and other hot takes under our College Hoops tab.

And don’t forget to follow me (@farmerbarn) and fellow Vols hoops writer @barnburnerziggy.

BANNER IMAGE COURTESY OF THE STATE

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