The regular season couldn't have ended any sweeter for Frank Martin and his basketball team.
South Carolina's 60-49 win over Tennessee this afternoon provided Gamecock faithful with another file of evidence leading to the program's progress. The win ends a 15-game losing streak to the Volunteers and marks the Gamecocks first win in Knoxville since 2002. The victory gave South Carolina it's 15th overall win and sixth SEC win of the season, the most in each category since the 2009-10 season.
The win wasn't a foregone conclusion as the ball tipped off. Tennessee was a favorite, at home on Senior Night, and had earned a better record than South Carolina for the season. The Vols also started out making four of their first five shots from the floor. UT gained themselves an early 10-5 lead when the first media timeout hit. Our Gamecocks turned it on after that and never looked back.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Duane Notice and Sindarius Thornwell started a 21-4 run for South Carolina. USC's run featured a stretch where they made five consecutive field goals and made 9-of-11 shots overall from the field. Michael Carrera had six points during the time to lead the team. South Carolina entered today's game dead last in overall field-goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage. In the first half, the Gamecocks shot 61.9 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from 3. Tennessee turned their game up notch, reducing South Carolina's first half lead to five but USC scored the final 10 points to head into halftime up 36-21.
Early on in the second half the Gamecocks increased their lead to 18 but Tennessee began hitting shots again. Josh Richardson hit three 3-pointers and Tennessee had a stretch where they made 4-of-5 shots while South Carolina went just 1-of-7 from the field. While the Volunteers fought back, they never got their deficit less than eight and the shooting trends reversed once again.
USC went on to make four out of their next five shots after a Laimonas Chatkevicius and-1 broke a scary scoring drought. Duane Notice laid in back-to-back shots in the paint to extend USC's lead to double-digits, 56-43, with 2:25 to go. The South Carolina defense held Tennessee to just three made field goals over the final 15:29 of the game. The Gamecocks hit four free throws down the stretch to seal the win and get their first victory against in the Vols in the last 16 tries.
Michael Carrera led the way with 14 points, shooting 6-of-7 from the field. His Lithuanian frontcourt mates, Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas, combined with the Venezuelan to shoot 11-of-18 from the floor today and outscore the Vols in the pain 28-14. Notice, Thornwell, and Tyrone Johnson combined for 32 points and the trio of guards made timely plays that won't show up in the box score.
Their opponent has yet to be determined but the next time the Gamecocks take floor will be next Wednesday at the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee.