USC Men's Basketball

‘They make you earn it.’ No. 1 Tennessee’s praise of USC comes from a genuine place

‘No lesson to be learned today’ Frank Martin on loss to Tennessee

South Carolina loss to the Tennessee Volunteers 92-70 at Colonial Life Arena Tuesday Jan. 29, 2019, in Columbia, SC.
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South Carolina loss to the Tennessee Volunteers 92-70 at Colonial Life Arena Tuesday Jan. 29, 2019, in Columbia, SC.

In a span of 13 minutes Tuesday, Tennessee turned a one-possession game into a 92-70 rout of South Carolina. The win was the Volunteers’ 20th in their last 25 regular season games against SEC opponents, a span of dominance that could easily lead to a repeat league championship.

Kentucky will challenge No. 1 UT (19-1, 7-0) for that crown this season. As will LSU. Mississippi State, Auburn and Ole Miss have enough talent to make a push. But for some Vols, they feel like they’ve already gotten over a giant hurdle.

“This isn’t a knock on anybody else,” star forward Grant Williams told Wes Rucker of GoVols247, “but I respect South Carolina more than I respect any team in this league because of coach (Frank) Martin and how hard they play. To come here and win is always great. These guys make you earn it. They fight you.”

Tennessee’s back-patting of Martin and the Gamecocks is genuine. It stems from a 22-point whipping Carolina handed the Volunteers two years ago at CLA. What the Vols learned that afternoon about Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and the importance of physicality still carries with them today.

USC basketball coach Frank Martin says when he watches this team on film, 'it's looks like I'm watching our team practice'

“It really was a great team effort for us,” UT coach Rick Barnes said Tuesday. “You all know how much respect I have for Frank Martin and what he does and how he builds his program.”

This week’s AP poll has Tennessee at 1, Virginia at 3 and Michigan at 5. The Gamecocks (10-10, 5-2) have now faced all of them, losing by an average score of 83-67.

Chris Silva, who topped Williams’ 23 points and nine rebounds with 28 and 10, said one trait sticks out about the Vols over the Cavaliers and Wolverines.

“Tennessee plays kind of like us — hustle plays and they execute well,” Silva said. “They made few mistakes, which allowed them to get baskets. And when they were not making shots, they were really relentless on the rebound. So those are the things that we gotta get better at.

“Little stuff like that impacts the game.”

South Carolina loss to the Tennessee Volunteers 92-70 at Colonial Life Arena Tuesday Jan. 29, 2019, in Columbia, SC.

UT beat USC in second-chance and fast break points, 31-13. Two years ago in Columbia, the Gamecocks won those battles, 22-20.

Williams and Admiral Schofield combined for 15 points and 13 rebounds against South Carolina on Feb. 25, 2017. Tuesday, they combined for 47 and 18.

“Those are the guys that have been there for four years, have stuck with the program and believe what the program is about,” Silva said. “I remember when I was a freshman and playing them, they were trying to play as hard as we were playing. And we had seniors, and our seniors were doing a really good job of using their experience to play against them.

“Now, they’ve spent four years in college and they’re playing together, they’ve learned and they’ve grown.”

Tennessee’s performance — which included the most points scored against South Carolina since Georgia had 97 on Jan. 22, 2014 — came at less than full strength. A pregame injury to Jordan Bowden had them down their fifth-leading scorer and lead candidate for SEC Sixth Man of the Year.

South Carolina, of course, hasn’t been at full strength for a while. Justin Minaya, out with a knee injury since late November, likely would have drawn the Schofield assignment. Instead, the Gamecocks had freshman Keyshawn Bryant on the All-SEC small forward.

And Bryant played despite hyper-extending his knee during Sunday’s practice.

“He’s fine,” Martin said. “That’s not what prevented him from playing well today. What prevented him from playing well today was the guy wearing No. 5 for Tennessee (Schofield).”

USC has dropped consecutive games for the first time since mid-December. It travels to Georgia on Saturday.

Tennessee isn’t back on the schedule until Feb. 13.

“We tried,” Martin said. “They’re just too physical for us.”


Who: South Carolina at Georgia

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Stegeman Coliseum in Athens

TV: SEC Network

Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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