South Carolina forward Sam Muldrow tried to spoil Tennessee’s NCAA hopes. Instead, the Volunteers spoiled the senior’s final game at Colonial Life Arena with a 73-69 win on Thursday.
USC cut a 17-point halftime deficit to three with 66 seconds remaining but could not get off a potential tying shot before Tennessee was able to pull ahead for good at the free-throw line.
On Senior Night, Muldrow scored a career-high 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds — his seventh double-double of the season. The school’s leading all-time shot blocker added five to his total.
The 6-foot-9, 229-pound Florence native scored 16 points in the second half. Guard Ramon Galloway, who had struggled recently, scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half. The sophomore scored seven consecutive points just after the midway point to put USC within two possessions.
But Galloway’s turnover with 23 seconds remaining all but ended USC’s chances.
Tennessee guard Melvin Goins had scored on a short jumper to put the Vols up by five points. Galloway lost the handle on the ball while coming down court and got caught in a wrestling match on the floor with Goins. A jump ball gave possession to Tennessee .
With USC trailing by six points after Tennessee made a free throw, Galloway missed a desperate 3-pointer and Muldrow’s putback attempt rimmed out with 13 second left.
Muldrow was pulled from the game after Tennessee went ahead by seven points with eight seconds remaining. He waved to the crowd as the student section chanted, “Thank you, Muldrow.”
“I just wanted to go out and help my team compete and stay together,” said Muldrow, a regular in the starting lineup the past three seasons and the only player remaining who was recruited by Dave Odom.
Tennessee (18-12, 8-7) entered the game having lost five of seven, hurting its chances of making the NCAA tournament despite having a strength of schedule that ranks among the nation’s top three and an RPI hovering around 35.
USC (14-14, 5-10) started poorly, shooting 31 percent in the first half while Tennessee shot 62 percent to take a 40-23 lead at halftime. The Gamecocks have struggled with their shooting in recent games.
But the roles were reversed in the second half as USC hit 47 percent of its shots, while Tennessee did not do as well around the basket.
“We dug ourselves a hole because we didn’t defend early on and were not as aggressive as we needed to be offensively,” Horn said. “Terrific effort to come back in the second half. It would have been easy with how things have gone of late not to do that. But fueled by Sam, our guys showed tremendous fight and aggressiveness.”
The Volunteers have won nine straight against the Gamecocks, including the past four meetings in Columbia. Since Jan. 22, USC has lost nine of its past 11.
Darrin Horn postgame
Seniors Muldrow, Jefferson honored
|TENNESSEE||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .512, FT .735.
3-Point Goals: 4-11, .364 (Hopson 3-7, McBee 1-2, Harris 0-1, Tatum 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 5.
Blocked Shots: 0.
Turnovers: 13 (Goins 3, Pearl 2, Tatum 2, Harris 2, Hopson 2, Golden, Bone).
Steals: 3 (Pearl 2, Golden).
Technical Fouls: None.
|SOUTH CAROLINA||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .394, FT .923.
3-Point Goals: 5-18, .278 (Galloway 3-4, Ellington 2-6, Slawson 0-1, Harris 0-1, Cooke 0-1, Muldrow 0-5).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 7 (Muldrow 5, Harris, Cooke).
Turnovers: 10 (Ellington 3, Muldrow 2, Galloway 2, Smith, Cooke, Harris).
Steals: 8 (Ellington 2, Cooke 2, Smith, Harris, Galloway, Jefferson).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials: Doug Shows, Karl Hess, Mike Eades.