KNOXVILLE, Tenn. | Scotty Hopson thought his Tennessee teammates could use a little energy. So he did his best Michael Jordan impression and flew through the air for a one-handed dunk over a defender's head.
Then he did it again, only this time he used two hands.
"Since I've been here, we've fed off energy," Hopson said. "When energy's high and guys are playing with enthusiasm, we're playing great basketball. We've just got to keep the energy up. I just try to make plays as much as I can to keep us going and keep the flow going."
Hopson's air show and 23 points were just enough to help the Volunteers survive some sloppy play to beat South Carolina 73-67 on Wednesday night.
The victory ended a three-game losing skid for Tennessee (16-10, 6-5 Southeastern Conference), which lost 61-60 to Florida on Saturday after playing its best basketball of the conference season. The Vols shot 49 percent in that game and outscored the Gators in the paint, but were just 4 of 10 at the free-throw line and botched a final offensive play that could have given them the win.
The Vols, who are now in a three-way tie with Georgia and Kentucky for third in the SEC East, didn't play nearly as well against South Carolina (13-11, 4-7) but used foul shots to seal the victory, their eighth straight against the Gamecocks.
Kenny Hall tipped in a missed layup by Melvin Goins to give the Vols a 66-53 lead with 3:05 left, their largest lead of the game.
Hall then fouled Malik Cooke at the other end as he hit a layup. Cooke hit the ensuing free throw and followed up a Tennessee turnover with a 3-pointer as part of an 8-0 run that left the Vols with a 66-61 lead with a minute remaining.
"They've got a veteran-dominated team with a lot of experience," Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn said. "I think they outweighed us in every position. Still, our guys fight and it's a two possession game inside 4 minutes with an opportunity to get in there and at least have a chance."
Tennessee didn't hit a field goal in the final 3:05 but went 7 of 8 from the free-throw line in the last minute to seal the victory. The Vols, who entered the game ranked last in the SEC with their 14.8 attempted foul shots per game in league play, finished 21 of 35 from the charity stripe.
Cameron Tatum added 15 points for Tennessee, while Tobias Harris and Brian Williams each had 10.
Cooke scored a career-high 22 points for the Gamecocks, who lost their fourth straight to remain in last place in the SEC East. Bruce Ellington added 15 points, and Ramon Galloway scored 10.
South Carolina's last lead came midway through the first half, but even shooting 32.9 percent the Gamecocks never let Tennessee get too comfortable on its own floor. The Vols hit 44.2 percent of their shots but committed 16 turnovers, leading to 20 points for South Carolina.
"I thought we left a lot of shots out there," said Vols coach Bruce Pearl, who got his first win in three tries after returning from an eight-game SEC suspension. "We got some good looks that could have gone down. I thought we did a decent job of breaking pressure, yet 16 turnovers is still too many."
Tennessee took a 14-7 lead early in the game, but the Gamecocks started pressing and using zone defense to create confusion, causing the Vols to turn the ball over and go nearly 7 minutes without a field goal.
"We just changed our defenses and just tried to be active in all of them, and I think that might have given them a little trouble," Cooke said.
A 3-pointer by RJ Slawson launched an 8-0 run by South Carolina. Galloway banked a shot with 8:03 left in the first half to take a 15-14 lead for the Gamecocks, but it was the last time they would lead.
Galloway fouled Hopson on the next possession, and Hopson hit both free throws. Galloway missed a jumper on the other end of the floor, and Hopson dunked, helping the Vols to settle down — at least until halftime.
Tennessee, which leads the SEC in offensive rebounds, had a 30-17 advantage on the boards at the break but only eight second-chance points.
The Vols built a 12-point lead quickly after halftime, but it didn't last as the Gamecocks started scoring more in the paint. A layup by Galloway cut the margin to 44-42 with 12:41 left.
South Carolina wouldn't get any closer as a 3-pointer by Skylar McBee from the wing with 11:57 left gave Tennessee some life.
"There's still a lot of things to be learned on the basketball floor," Hopson said. "We could definitely cut down on turnovers, and that could lead to more energy plays. We've just got to keep being solid."
South Carolina plays at Kentucky at 4 p.m. Saturday.
|SOUTH CAROLINA||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .329, FT .750.
3-Point Goals: 10-32, .313 (Cooke 3-3, Ellington 3-13, Richardson 2-4, Slawson 1-1, Muldrow 1-6, Galloway 0-5).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 7 (Muldrow 6, Harris).
Turnovers: 11 (Ellington 5, Richardson 2, Slawson, Muldrow, Cooke, Galloway).
Steals: 7 (Cooke 2, Galloway 2, Ellington, Richardson, Muldrow).
Technical Fouls: Muldrow.
|TENNESSEE||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .442, FT .600.
3-Point Goals: 6-18, .333 (Hopson 3-8, Tatum 2-5, McBee 1-1, Goins 0-1, Bone 0-3).
Team Rebounds: 4.
Blocked Shots: 1 (Harris).
Turnovers: 16 (Goins 5, Harris 5, Hopson 2, Williams 2, McBee, Fields).
Steals: 6 (Tatum 2, Goins 2, Hopson, Pearl).
Technical Fouls: Pearl.
Officials: Ted Valentine, Joe Lindsay, Mike Kitts.