Auburn drew the blueprint and mailed it to Tennessee.
The Volunteers, taller and heavier than almost any South Carolina player that could stay on the floor, used their advantages and rolled to a 72-53 laugher against the Gamecocks on Saturday. USC was rocked when Tennessee scored the game’s first 10 points and wobbled when the Volunteers discovered there was no way USC’s defense could stop them consistently.
“Just didn’t have it today,” coach Frank Martin said. “We just didn’t have that coming out of the gate today. We’ve got to make a high percentage of our shots, and we didn’t do that, either.
“We got a group of guys who really tried, but just didn’t have enough in the tank to overcome Tennessee.”
Like the Tigers did earlier in the week, Tennessee (15-8, 6-4 SEC) knew it couldn’t be stopped inside and rolled to a large first-half lead. When USC (8-15, 1-9) forced a shot-clock violation late in the half, it only made the Vols mad as they barely missed from the field thereafter.
If USC played the paint, UT stepped outside (Jordan McRae hit five 3-pointers in the first half). If USC guarded the perimeter, UT flipped the ball inside (Jarnell Stokes scored six straight points a foot from the basket, including two one-handed jams).
Knowing the problems they had with Auburn’s bigs and slashing guards, the Gamecocks knew that they had to counter a similarly built Tennessee squad. Nobody was going to get taller or heavier overnight, so the plan was to get a few stops in any way they can, try to push the ball inside for some baskets and have big games from their guards.
A stop happened once or twice. Big man Laimonas Chatkevicius played well offensively. Sindarius Thornwell scored USC’s first nine points and finished with 15.
But Brenton Williams and Duane Notice each were scoreless in the first half. USC trailed by 23 at halftime as McRae buried his fifth 3 before the buzzer, and there was no second-half run in USC this time.
“It’s not just the size at the rim, it’s the size at the perimeter that really bothered us,” Martin said. “Brent couldn’t get a shot off. We did some good things at times on offense, but like I said, we just didn’t make enough shots.”
The Gamecocks dug themselves a hole by leaving their shooting at home. USC was a listless sub-30 percent from the field for most of the game. Bullied by Tennessee out of the paint, USC was forced to elevate over the Vols’ perimeter length — they made 3-of-14 from the 3-point line and Williams, who was coming off five straight games with at least four 3-pointers made, connected just once.
USC got some energy from Brian Steele, who played 26 minutes and scored seven points with four rebounds, but Michael Carrera played five minutes and was scoreless. When asked what Carrera has to do to stay on the floor, Martin said he’d rather not have that conversation, but he talked at length about how USC is undermanned when it comes to physicality.
“You can do it on one play, maybe two, but let’s talk football here,” Martin said. “No different than that 240-pound lineman. Yeah, you might be able to beat that 300-pounder on a play, but when you keep pounding on him, keep pounding on him, come the third quarter, that guy’s not going to be able to deal with that size anymore.”
“It’s real tough,” said 215-pound Demetrius Henry. “Every game, there’s going to be a big that’s going to be at least 240. I’ve got to get used to it and keep developing.”
The loss extended USC’s runs of misery against Tennessee and in the SEC. The Gamecocks have lost 13 straight to the Vols (last win, 2007) and 11 straight at Thompson-Boling Arena (last win, 2002). With their ninth loss in league play, the Gamecocks also clinched no better than a .500 SEC finish this year, and the 18th non-winning year in 23 SEC seasons. One more defeat and USC will have its 20th losing SEC season.
USC will try to avoid it with two straight games at home. Thornwell spoke of trying to remain upbeat.
“It’s hard. It’s hard to try to stay focused, stay on task when you have games right there,” Thornwell said. “Ole Miss? We blew that game. We blew a couple games. The season’s not over, so we got to keep playing.”
SOUTH CAROLINA (8-15)
Henry 1-4 0-0 2, Carrera 0-2 0-0 0, Thornwell 5-18 4-6 15, Williams 2-8 3-3 8, Notice 4-10 1-1 9, Chatkevicius 3-4 0-0 6, McKie 0-0 0-0 0, Kacinas 1-3 1-2 3, Ringer 1-1 1-1 3, Steele 3-6 0-0 7. Totals 20-56 10-13 53.
Stokes 6-11 5-9 17, Maymon 5-7 0-1 10, Richardson 3-3 0-0 6, Thompson 1-3 0-0 2, McRae 8-14 2-4 24, Barton 1-5 2-2 4, Moore 4-6 0-0 9, Ndiaye 0-0 0-0 0, Davis 0-1 0-0 0, Reese 0-0 0-0 0, Edwards 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 28-53 9-16 72.
Halftime_Tennessee 45-22. 3-Point Goals_South Carolina 3-14 (Steele 1-3, Williams 1-4, Thornwell 1-6, Notice 0-1), Tennessee 7-16 (McRae 6-8, Moore 1-2, Thompson 0-2, Barton 0-2, Edwards 0-2). Fouled Out_Henry. Rebounds_South Carolina 31 (Kacinas 6), Tennessee 36 (Maymon, Stokes 8). Assists_South Carolina 8 (Thornwell 4), Tennessee 15 (Thompson 4). Total Fouls_South Carolina 17, Tennessee 14. Attendancee_17,215.