South Carolina showed up in Knoxville with a difficult challenge. They knew they needed to stop Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon inside, while also trying to bottle up Jordan McRae on the outside. They also knew they'd need to find a way to score - either by figuring out a way to effectively attack the interior or shooting a barrage of 3s and hoping for the best.
Instead, the Gamecocks did exactly none of that. McRae and Stokes ran rampant (they outscored Carolina 33-22 just by themselves in the first half), the Gamecocks looked completely out of sync on offense, and Tennessee laughed its way to a 72-53 victory over Carolina on Saturday afternoon. The loss dropped the Gamecocks to 1-9 in the SEC on the season, and was their 12th-straight loss to the Volunteers, a streak that now dates back to 2007.
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There were very few positives to take from the outing, one of the few times all season where the Gamecocks never really got into the game (the others being their outings against Oklahoma State and Georgia, though you could perhaps argue Carolina never really got into it with Boise State if you wanted). The Volunteers went to the inside early and often, scoring 43 of their 45 first-half points from the three places you want to get offense - 3s, free throws, and points in the paint. The 24-6 discrepancy in points in the paint spelled out the difference between the teams.
South Carolina went on a 10-0 run in the second half to close the Tennessee lead to 54-41 with 8:30 to go. But Armani Moore stepped back and dropped a 3-pointer in to extend the lead back to 16, and the Gamecocks never really threatened against the rest of the way.
The effort represented almost a total failing, with only Sindarius Thornwell (13), Laimonas Chatkevicius (6), and Brian Steele (3) scoring during the entire first half. Thornwell ultimately took 18 of Carolina's 56 shots from the field. While it's admirable to watch him try to carry this team, no one can score efficiently enough on that many shots for his team to ultimately succeed.
Steele played 26 minutes and ended the game with a career-high 8 points, but he's clearly not a long-term answer, and one wonders what led Martin to decide to run him out there for such extended action. It also makes you wonder whether guys not getting minutes instead (like Justin McKie and Reggie Theus) will wonder what they have to do to get that sort of playing time in an SEC game.
In that vein, Frank Martin and Michael Carrera need to kiss and make up, because whatever's gone wrong between them, it's not helping. Carrera played only 5 minutes in Knoxville, going 0-2 with 2 rebounds and a block. It's the first time he's played under 10 minutes since the Gamecocks' trip to Hawaii, and on a day where he could've moved to the wing to allow Martin two big bodies in the paint on defense, instead he was relegated to the bench as Steele and others did their best to slow the Volunteers.
The Gamecocks head home for their next two contests, both winnable games against Vanderbilt and Alabama. The game against the Commodores tips off at 8pm from the Colonial Life Arena on Wednesday night.
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