South Carolina basketball coach Lamont Paris had his team in position to take on the Tennessee Volunteers in what should have been a ranked matchup. The Vols are in the top-5 of the polls, and the Gamecocks were egregiously snubbed from the rankings, slotting in at 26th instead of cracking the top-25.
The 17-3 Gamecocks made the trip up to face the 15-4 Volunteers in Thompson-Boling Arena, and the UT Faithful were loud in support of their team early.
The game began with Rocky Top winning the tip, but BJ Mack got a stop on one end and drew a foul on the other. Sinking both free throws gave his team a 2-0 lead, and a 3-pointer on the next possession put the visiting Gamecocks up 5. The run grew to 7-0 after a Ta'Lon Cooper fast break bucket on a nice bounce pass from Meechie Johnson.
Tennessee's 0-5 start from the field ended with 7 straight points that tied the score near the 14-minute mark. Big Josh Gray put USC back up, and Myles Stute came into the game for his first action since being injured on a dirty play against Georgia. The whistles started going against the Gamecocks with any contact, and the scoring pace slowed to a crawl for both teams.
After some poor pick-and-roll defense from the 'Cocks, Tennessee took the lead 11-9, but Stute made his first shot from outside to regain the lead. The Vols got away with two separate 3-second violations before a Santiago Vescovi 3-ball put the home team on top again.
The Gamecocks kept the UT crowd quiet by keeping the score close as the score stood 16-15 in favor of the Volunteers heading into the under-8 timeout. Dalton Knecht scored his 6th and 7th points on a tough layup after the media break, but back-to-back makes inside from Josh Gray and Collin Murray-Boyles put Carolina ahead 19-18.
The USC scoring run grew to 6-0 with another Murray-Boyles score after an offensive rebound. The two teams traded buckets over the next couple of minutes, including 5 points from Ta'Lon Cooper and 4 points from Dalton Knecht.
The Gamecocks put together a couple of stops to end the half, and 4 points from BJ Mack in the closing seconds put South Carolina basketball ahead 30-26 heading into halftime. For the 17th time this season, the Fighting QZips held an opponent to under 30 points in a half.
After the halftime break, Meechie Johnson immediately broke out of his scoreless funk (dating back over 3 halves of basketball) with a deep 3-point make. Vol senior guard Santiago Vescovi scored 5 straight shortly later to tie the game.
Then, much like how the beginning of the game saw the Gamecocks called for any contact, Tennessee had four fouls called on them in under 2 minutes of game action. None of the violations came in the act of shooting, though, so the Gamecocks were only able to score two points through the whistle-fest.
A little while later, a rare 2-2 trip to the charity stripe for Josh Gray put USC up 37-35. The big man did some good work on the glass, as well, pulling down his 5th and 6th rebounds on the next two possessions. Unfortunately, two turnovers from the Gamecocks squandered those opportunities.
After getting the ball back, Myles Stute made another deep ball (now 2-2 in his return to action) to go up 40-36. A few trips down the floor later, and #10 made his 3rd from downtown. Meechie Johnson and BJ Mack picked up their 3rd fouls, and Dalton Knecht made the score 43-40 at the line.
The 3-point barrage continued for Lamont Paris' team, this time with Jacobi Wright hitting one after a pump fake sent Zakai Zeigler flying. South Carolina native Josiah Jordan-James scored his first points of the game for Tennessee with a lane jumper, but two Ta'Lon Cooper free throws put Carolina back up by 6.
A ticky-tack foul on Collin Murray-Boyles sent Jonas Aidoo to the stripe where he went 1-2 to cut the USC lead to 48-45. A frenetic pace took over the contest for the next minute, and neither team did anything well on offense during that time. When things slowed down, Ta'Lon Cooper hit an open 3-pointer off of a nice feed from Johnson, and the Gamecocks took a 6-point lead into the final 5 minutes.
A BJ Mack layup at the 3:39 mark put South Carolina up 53-46, but Meechie Johnson picked up his 4th foul on the next possession. Dalton Knecht missed both free throws, however, and Mack picked up two at the line to go up 9. Two quick scores from Knecht brought his total to 22 points and made the score 55-50 with just over 2 minutes remaining in the game.
A 1-2 free throw line visit from Mack put Carolina up 6 again, but Knecht answered quickly with a short jumper. A bogus foul call against Jacobi Wright sent #3 to the line again where he made 1-2. With a 56-53 lead, the Gamecocks brought the ball down the floor. As had happened earlier in the game, Meechie Johnson cooly found Ta'Lon Cooper open in the corner for 3, and the Gamecocks were up 59-53 with 40 seconds left.
Knecht would not quit, though, and he hit a deep ball with Zach Davis' hand in his face. A tough trap from UT almost forced a turnover, but Myles Stute ended up with the ball past halfcourt and took the intentional foul. Stute made both shots to go up 61-56. A Zakai Zeigler miss was rebounded by Knecht, and he made a ridiculous 3-pointer to cut the lead to just 2 points with 5 seconds left.
Once again, though, Myles Stute knocked down both free throws, and that was that. South Carolina rocky topped the Tennessee Volunteers.