By Keegan Krause
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– Saturday night’s penultimate home game against the South Carolina Gamecocks saw No. 11 Tennessee get back on track with an 85-45 win.
A much improved offensive performance, the return of Josiah Jordan James, and a stellar second-half defensive showing were the keys in this one.
The first half saw the Volunteers get back to form offensively, but it didn’t go quite the way they wanted it to go on the defensive end. The first offensive possession for the Gamecocks saw multiple offensive rebounds and went for over a minute, setting a bad tone to start the game for the Vols. Luckily this didn’t last.
The Vols were able to jump out to a healthy early lead due to their 56.7% first-half field goal percentage, some stellar post-play from Plavsic, and a great first-half return for James. However, their defense, which hasn’t looked like the best in class defense we’ve seen at times since the Feb. 15 game against then-ranked No. 1 Alabama, was not stellar this half.
Tennessee let South Carolina get 10 first-half offensive rebounds and put up 30 shots, although a poor shooting performance from the Gamecocks kept them under the 30-point mark, and the Volunteers took a 38-26 lead into the half.
The second half saw Tennessee really step things up on both ends of the floor, scoring 47 points and holding the Gamecocks to just 19 second-half points. The defense was the standout in this second half though. It was the best in class defense that has been advertised. Forcing 8 turnovers and holding USC to 20% from three and 33% from the field.
Offensively things clicked as well as the Vols shot 59% from the field and 46% from three, and were spacing the floor really well. James was the star in this one with 18 points, but Plavsic (10), Zigler (13), Nkamhoua (10), and Mashack (14), all got in double digits as well.
Josiah Jordan James is vital to this team’s success, and he was back in a big way Saturday night with 18 points. Success inside leads to success everywhere else and Uros and Jonas were successful tonight. Tennessee has G.G. Jackson’s number, holding him to just five points across two contests. When the Volunteers are clicking on defense, everything else comes together and the team we saw Saturday needs to be the team Tennessee fields in March.
The Volunteers return to action Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena with a 9 P.M. EST tip-off for senior night against Arkansas, which is coming offb a close loss to No. 2 Alabama.