South Carolina believes it's heating up just in time for the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The Gamecocks closed the regular season Saturday with a 60-49 victory at Tennessee that showed they had regained their shooting touch. They also say they've gotten back the mindset that helped them post impressive nonconference wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State before struggling in conference play.
"We're young and we didn't handle success very well," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. "Guys started paying attention to all the stuff that doesn't impact winning. Until we (got) out of that frame of mind... we really had no chance to win because we weren't where we needed to be. We're in a good place mentally right now."
Michael Carrera scored 14 points and shot 6 of 7 as South Carolina ended a 15-game losing streak in this series. South Carolina (15-15, 6-12 SEC) beat Tennessee (15-15, 7-11) for the first time since an 81-64 triumph in Columbia on Feb. 17, 2007. The Gamecocks hadn't defeated the Volunteers in Knoxville since Jan. 23, 2002.
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The Gamecocks insisted they weren't aware that Tennessee had beaten them that many times in a row. They just wanted to carry some momentum into the postseason.
"It's really important to give us confidence in ourselves, to keep playing how we're playing right now and to keep working how we're working," Carrera said. "We've been having great practices, competitive practices, and that's how we have to keep doing it every single day to prepare for every game."
South Carolina entered SEC competition with a 9-3 record but dropped six of its first seven conference games and has been struggling to regain its early-season footing ever since.
The Gamecocks entered Saturday ranked last in the SEC in overall field-goal percentage (.404) and 3-point shooting percentage (.293), but they've shown improvement lately. They shot 51.2 percent (21 of 41) against Tennessee - 61.9 percent in the first half - and have made 49.3 percent of their field-goal attempts (71 of 144) over their last three games.
That three-game stretch includes two wins and a 78-74 loss to No. 18 Arkansas.
"Making shots makes everyone feel better," Martin said.
Duane Notice had 12 points and Tyrone Johnson and Sindarius Thornwell each added 10 for South Carolina, which pulled ahead for good with a 21-4 run in the first half. Josh Richardson and Robert Hubbs scored 14 points each for Tennessee.
Richardson, playing his final scheduled home game, also had six rebounds, six assists and four steals. The senior guard received a standing ovation as he left the game in the final minute.
Tennessee has struggled at home throughout conference play. Although Tennessee is 5-4 in conference road games, the Vols are just 2-7 in SEC home matchups. Perhaps the Vols are better off leaving Knoxville for the SEC tournament.
"You never know what can happen in March," Richardson said. "The SEC tournament's a place where teams can come out of nowhere and win it."
... South Carolina: The Gamecocks went 12 of 13 on free throws to continue their impressive performance from the line this season. South Carolina is shooting 73.9 percent from the line. South Carolina's school record in that category came in 1971, when it made 74.3 percent of its free throws.
... Tennessee: Former Tennessee stars Bernard King (1974-77) and Johnny Darden (1975-79) were recognized at halftime. Saturday marked the first on-campus recognition of King's 2013 induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Darden is representing Tennessee at the SEC tournament as the school's SEC basketball legend.
REVERSAL OF FORTUNE
... Tennessee had won 66-62 at South Carolina on Jan. 20 while shooting a season-high 57.5 percent. In Saturday's rematch, the Vols shot just 35.6 percent.
... "They made shots, they outplayed us and they deserved that win (in January), but we were a mentally wounded team at the time," Martin said. "We were too concerned with all the things that do not impact winning and losing. We're in a better mindset as a team now than we were the first time we played."
... South Carolina opens SEC tournament play Wednesday at Nashville, Tennessee, against Missouri.
... Tennessee opens SEC tournament play Thursday at Nashville, Tennessee, against an opponent to be determined.
SOUTH CAROLINA (15-15)
Chatkevicius 3-8 1-1 7, Carrera 6-7 2-2 14, Thornwell 3-10 2-2 10, Johnson 3-6 2-2 10, Notice 4-7 2-3 12, Stroman 0-0 0-0 0, Theus Jr. 0-0 0-0 0, McKie 0-0 2-2 2, Kacinas 2-3 1-1 5. Totals 21-41 12-13 60.
Moore 0-2 2-2 2, Owens 0-2 0-2 0, Punter 3-9 1-3 9, Richardson 5-12 0-0 14, Hubbs III 5-11 2-2 14, Mostella 0-2 0-0 0, Reese 1-4 2-2 4, Carmichael III 1-1 0-0 2, Campbell 0-0 0-0 0, Baulkman 1-2 1-3 4. Totals 16-45 8-14 49.
Halftime_South Carolina 36-21. 3-Point Goals_South Carolina 6-17 (Johnson 2-4, Notice 2-4, Thornwell 2-9), Tennessee 9-26 (Richardson 4-10, Hubbs III 2-5, Punter 2-6, Baulkman 1-2, Reese 0-1, Mostella 0-2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_South Carolina 25 (Carrera 7), Tennessee 25 (Moore, Richardson 6). Assists_South Carolina 16 (Johnson, Notice 5), Tennessee 12 (Richardson 6). Total Fouls_South Carolina 15, Tennessee 16. Attendance_16,042.