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Game preview: South Carolina tangles with top-ranked Tennessee

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The Gamecocks have a big test — and opportunity — tonight.

Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina (10-9, 5-1 SEC) vs. No. 1 Tennessee (18-1, 6-0)

Start time: 6:30 p.m.

TV: SEC Network

Live stream: watchespn.com

Last game

The Gamecocks finally saw some of their patented late-game magic evaporate when a furious rally at Oklahoma State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge fell short with a 74-70 loss. Despite trailing by as much as 12 points, the Gamecocks kept battling — there were 14 lead changes in a hotly contested second half. But South Carolina couldn’t quite catch up, as the Cowboys used a 12-7 run over the game’s final five minutes to put a victory out of reach. (Curiously, South Carolina only had nine free throw attempts — and none in the first half — and Oklahoma State had 29. A coincidence, I’m sure.) Chris Silva was the top performer for the Gamecocks, with 15 points and nine rebounds, and A.J. Lawson added 12 points.

What to watch for

Well, uh, this one’s a toughie. No. 1 Tennessee has been enjoying a dream season and is the clear class of the SEC, undefeated in conference play and ranked in the top spot for a second week in a row (although they just had an overtime scare against Vanderbilt). The Volunteers are also on an impressive 14-game winning streak, and a victory over the Gamecocks tonight would set a new program record. Five Vols average double figures, led by star Grant Williams (20.2 points per game), Admiral Schofield (16.6; also, PLEASE graduate already), Jordan Bone (13.1), Lamonte Turner (11.5) and Jordan Bowden (10.9). Tennessee also boasts a 50.7 shooting percentage from the field, good for third in the country, and is putting up 86.1 points per game while holding opponents to just 67.4. South Carolina’s only other win over a No. 1 team was back in 2010 against John Wall and Demarcus Cousins’ Kentucky squad. Can they pull it off again tonight?