Photo Credit: Andrew Ferguson/ Tennessee Athletics
By Chloe Levering
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 5 Tennessee (15-5, 5-1) dropped their Tuesday night game against South Carolina (18-3, 6-2) in Food City Center at Thompson-Boling Arena.
It was their first loss at home this season after a 10-0 win streak and following a 5-0 win streak on their last 5 games of the season. The Vols were led by their usual frontman Dalton Knecht with 31 points and 7 rebounds, followed by Santiago Vescovi with 10 points and 3 rebounds.
The Gamecocks, however, were coming off three straight SEC wins, including a victory over Kentucky, who was No. 6 at the time of the game.
“They’re fighters, they’re tough, they want to win badly as a group,” South Carolina head coach Lamont Paris said following the game.
South Carolina had 18 personal fouls throughout the game, giving Tennessee the opportunity to gain off free throws. However, the Vols shot only 12-20 from the line.
“You can’t miss 10 point-blank layups and do what we did on the free-throw line and expect to win,” said Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes.
The obvious gap between Knecht’s scoring and the rest of the roster fared to be a large issue for Tennessee, as common runner-up scorers Zakai Zeigler and Jonas Aidoo only scored 2 and 6 points, respectively. Tobe Awaka had 6 points, Josiah-Jordan James had 2, and J.P. Estrella finished with 2.
“Waiting on him to make every play, it’s not fair to do that to him,” Barnes said about Knecht.
“If today we made layups and some more free throws, we’re not having the talk we’re having right now,” Vescovi said following the game.
Aidoo and Josiah-Jordan James found themselves in foul trouble with 4 fouls in the later minutes of the game, as well as Meechie Johnson for South Carolina. Myles Stute, the junior forward for the Gamecocks, solidified the game-winning points in the last minutes, making each free throw after Tennessee fouled in hopes of a miss. It was Ta’lon Cooper who made a 3-point jumper with 41 seconds left in the game that led to the need to foul.
Knecht, however, made two quick free throws in the last 31 seconds, but the Vols would not catch up by the buzzer.
“We’ll find out what we’re made of. Obviously it’s not going to get any easier,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure I’d call it an upset just because we had a number in front of us.”
As for South Carolina, the Gamecocks will go on to play Georgia (14-7, 4-4) in Athens on Saturday afternoon at 1:00 PM ET.
SEC play continues for Tennessee this Saturday when they face the No. 10 Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena in Lexington on Saturday. Tip-off is at 8:30 PM ET and the game will air on ESPN. Tennessee looks to grab the win over the Wildcats at their house, and will play them once more in Knoxville to finish off the regular season on March 9.