Hoops Preview: Tennessee vs. South Carolina

Credit: Ut Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee men’s basketball team returns to home to Thompson-Boling Arena for a Saturday matinee matchup with South Carolina. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. ET on SEC Network.

Saturday’s game can be seen on SEC Network, online through WatchESPN and on any mobile device through the ESPN App. Fans can access WatchESPN at espn.com/watch. Mike Morgan, Pat Bradley and Ryan Yocum will have the call.

Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Bob Kesling and Bert Bertlekamp describing the action.

Last time out, the Vols used a balanced attack to battle past Missouri, 69-59, on Tuesday night. Tennessee had six players score in double-figures, with senior Jordan Bowden leading the way with 13 points and four huge defensive rebounds that capped off multiple stops on the defensive end. Freshman Josiah-Jordan James put in an all-around performance, scoring 11 points and pulling in a team-high seven rebounds. Junior John Fulkerson matched James’s 11 points, while bringing down six rebounds of his own.

With the score tied with just over five minutes to play, freshman Santiago Vescovi scored all 12 of his points over those final five minutes to propel the Vols during their final run to close the contest and cement the final score.

Tennessee is currently riding a four-game win streak against South Carolina, with both victories in 2018-19 coming in double-figures.

A win would leave coach Rick Barnes just two wins shy 100 career victories as head coach of the Vols. A victory would also halt the Vols’ two-game home losing streak and give them a 2-1 mark in SEC play.

Up next, Tennessee hits the road for the first of two consecutive SEC contests away from home, when they take on Georgia on Wednesday night. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET on SEC Network.

THE SERIES
• Tennessee leads the all-time series with South Carolina, 46-27, dating to 1927. The Vols are riding a four-game win streak against the Gamecocks.
• The Vols have a 27-9 edge when the series is played in Knoxville.
• The Vols and Gamecocks meet again in Columbia on Feb. 15.

A WIN WOULD…
• Halt the Vols’ two-game home losing streak.
• Leave Rick Barnes just two wins shy of recording his 100th victory as Tennessee’s head coach.
• Extend UT’s win streak over South Carolina to five games.

STORYLINES
• Tennessee ranks third in the nation in average home attendance, drawing 18,950 at Thompson-Boling Arena this year.
• The highly popular Red Panda is performing during halftime Saturday. Who will toss her bowls? Mystery… intrigue… it just means more.
• In its five games during the month of December, Tennessee shot .228 from 3-point range. In UT’s two games this month, the Vols are shooting .480 from long range. See note below.
• The Vols have won their last regular-season meeting against 11 of their 13 SEC opponents (all except Auburn and LSU).
• Mid-year enrollee Santiago Vescovi is shooting .667 from 3-point range through his first two collegiate games (8 of 12). That percentage leads the SEC thus far in league play.

LAYUP LINES
• Tennessee’s 16.0 assists per game leads the SEC during league play. But it’s 17.5 turnovers per game also are the most in the league.
• Tennessee ranks second in the SEC and 14th nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 59.6 ppg.
• Junior John Fulkerson is shooting a team-best .653 from the field while averaging a career-best 11.1 points per game this season.
• Junior forward Yves Pons has blocked at least one shot in every game this season and ranks second in the SEC and 24th nationally with 2.4 bpg.
• True freshman Josiah-Jordan James leads the Vols with 6.0 rebounds per game. He is the SEC’s second-leading rebounder among freshmen.
• Fifth-year senior and preseason All-SEC guard Lamonté Turner announced on Dec. 21 that he will no longer suit up for the Vols due to thoracic outlet syndrome. The Vols are 1-2 without him.

ABOUT SOUTH CAROLINA
• South Carolina is coming off a loss in its SEC opener Tuesday night, as the Gamecocks fell to Florida, 81-68, at home. The loss dropped South Carolina to 8-6 and 0-1 in conference  action.
• The result against Florida followed an up-and-down non-conference schedule that saw the Gamecocks upend nationally ranked Virginia (70-59) on the road before falling at home to Stetson (63-56).
• Following a season that saw the Gamecocks finish 16-16 overall and in the middle of the pack in the SEC, South Carolina looks to avoid missing the Big Dance for a  third consecutive season. The last time the Gamecocks found themselves in March Madness, they advanced all the way to the 2017 Final Four, knocking off Duke, Baylor and SEC rival Florida along the way.
• Despite an inconsistent season thus far, the Gamecocks have seen consistent production from sophomore guard A.J. Lawson, who leads the team in scoring, with 15.2 ppg, and ranks second in assists with 2.4 apg.
• The huge bright spot for South Carolina has come from senior forward Maik Kotsar. Kotsar ranks second for the Gamecocks in scoring (10.3 ppg) and first in rebounding (6.1 rpg), blocks (0.9 bpg) and steals (1.5 spg). His 10.3 ppg are a 3.3 points jump from his average last season, showing his improvement and efficiency on the offensive end.
• The University of South Carolina is a public research institution that was founded in 1801 in an effort to promote harmony between the Lowcountry and Backcountry of South Carolina. Its current total enrollment of 52,000 students makes it the largest university in the Carolinas.

LAST TIME VS. SOUTH CAROLINA
•  Fueled by five double-figure scorers, No. 1 Tennessee continued its winning ways on Feb. 13, 2019, defeating the South Carolina Gamecocks, 85-73, in Thompson-Boling Arena to complete the season sweep.
•  The victory marked the ninth time in 2019 SEC play that the Vols won by double digits and the second time they did so against South Carolina.
• Admiral Schofield led the way with a game-high 21-points while grabbing a team-high 10 boards for his fourth double-double of the season.
•  Tennessee extended its winning streak to a record 19 games while pushing its win streak in SEC regular-season games to 15. The win also gave UT its best start to SEC play, starting 11-0 to best the 1976-77 team’s 10-0 conference start.
•  The Vols had a balanced offense throughout the game, as every player who played more than three minutes scored and had at least one assist. Consensus All-American Grant Williams led the team with seven assists to go along with eight points and nine rebounds.
•  After taking a 13-point lead into the second half, the Vols maintained their double-digit lead throughout the rest of the game. Tennessee started out the second half on fire from the field, knocking down five of its first six shots to build the lead out to 62-46 at the 15:16 mark.
•  After being up by as many as 18 points in the first 20 half, UT took a 49-36 lead into halftime.
•  Schofield scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half, scoring eight of the team’s final 10 points in the game to put away the Gamecocks.
•  Tennessee dished out 22 assists (on 34 made baskets) as a team against South Carolina, surpassing 20 assists for the 12th time on the season.

MEMORABLE VOL PERFORMANCES AGAINST SOUTH CAROLINA
• On Dec. 6, 1969, unranked Tennessee strolled into Columbia and upset the No. 1-ranked Gamecocks, 55-54, thanks to 20 points from Jimmy England, and double-doubles by Don Johnson (18 pts, 12 rebs) and Bobby Croft (12 pts, 13 rebs).
• A two-overtime thriller in Columbia saw South Carolina pull out a 111-107 win on Feb. 10, 1993, despite 20-point efforts from Allan Houston (29), Lang Wiseman (26) and Corey Allen (22).
• Wayne Chism scored 23 points, JaJuan Smith added 19 and Tyler Smith had 13, but it was Chris Lofton’s 25-footer with 12.0 seconds remaining that lifted the Vols to an 89-87 win over South Carolina in the 2008 SEC Tournament in Atlanta on March 14, 2008.
• 2011 first-team All-SEC guard Scotty Hopson had a bright career against South Carolina, owning a sterling 6-0 record against the Gamecocks. Hopson threw down a posterizing dunk in the 2011 Knoxville win that placed fourth in the CBS Dunk of the Year Contest.

FORMER BIG 12 RIVALS BARNES, MARTIN NOW UNDER SEC BANNER
• Tennessee coach Rick Barnes and South Carolina headman Frank Martin meet for the 16th time as conference rivals Saturday and the ninth time under the SEC banner.
• The two squared off seven times as coaches in the Big 12 Conference, when Barnes was with Texas and Martin was at Kansas State.
• Barnes holds an 8-7 edge in head-to-head meetings.
• The 53-year-old Martin went 117-54 in five seasons at Kansas State, taking his 2009-10 squad to the Elite Eight and winning the Big 12 Coach of the Year award that same season. Barnes was one of the top coaches in the Big 12 during his 17-year tenure at Texas, winning four Big 12 Coach of the Year awards.
• Martin accepted the head coaching position at South Carolina in the spring of 2012.

VESCOVI LOCKED IN FROM DEEP
• In his first two collegiate games, Vols freshman Santiago Vescovi is shooting a red-hot .667 (8 for 12) from 3-point range. That leads the SEC in league play.
• Despite his slow, lefty release, Vescovi made six of nine attempts vs. LSU and then—in his first-ever road game—he hit two of three attempts at Mizzou.
• His accuracy from beyond the arc has helped him post a team-best 1.76 points per shot.
• Josiah-Jordan James on Vescovi: “He has a slower jump shot. But if he gets it off, it’s going in. It is so methodical.”

N3W Y3AR’S R3SOLUTION
• What a difference a flip of the calendar makes! The Vols didn’t shoot the ball well from long range during the month of December, but they must have made a New Year’s resolution to remedy those woes.
• In league games, Tennessee’s 12.0 3-point makes per game ranks second in the SEC.

UT ROSTER FEATURES SEVEN LEFTIES
• While most studies estimate that 10 percent of the population is left-handed, lefties make up nearly half of this Tennessee basketball team. Seven current Vols are “southpaws.”
• Tennessee’s left-handers include: Victor Bailey Jr.John FulkersonDavonte GainesJosiah-Jordan JamesJalen JohnsonYves Pons and Santiago Vescovi.
• Tennessee has more left-handed players than any other team in the SEC this season.
• During the season-opening win vs. UNC Asheville (11/5/19), UT had five lefties on the court for a stretch.
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