ATLANTA (USC SID) – After winning two games in the SEC Tournament for first time since 2006, South Carolina’s run came to an end as they fell to Tennessee, 59-44, in the quarterfinals at the Georgia Dome.
The Gamecocks struggled throughout the afternoon on the offensive side of the ball, as the Volunteers held them to 27.1 percent (16-of-59) shooting from the field and a season-low 44 points. For the first time in past two seasons, Carolina did not have a player score in double figures as senior guard Brenton Williams was the team’s high scorer with nine. On the other side, Tennessee was led by Jarnell Stokes set the tone for the game and posted 22 points and 15 rebounds, while Jordan McRae added 14 points.
From the start, Tennessee flexed its muscle both in the paint and on defense. The Gamecocks missed their first eight shots before sophomore forward Laimonas Chatkevicius got them on the board with a jumper just over six minutes into the contest. Carolina missed its next three shots though as they were only hitting 8.3 percent through the opening eight minutes of play as the Volunteers held a 12-2 lead.
Williams got the deficit back to seven with just over 11 minutes to play with a 3 from the right side. Tennessee was then able to push the lead back up to 10. Four points from sophomore Mindaugas Kacinas on layups got the deficit back to seven at 16-9 with 7:58 on the clock.
The layups ignited a quick 9-3 spurt to bring the Gamecocks within four at 18-14 with 5:58 remaining. That was as close as South Carolina would get in the first half as the Vols countered with a 7-0 run before Williams hit his second 3 of the half with 2:55 to go.
Tennessee took a 28-18 lead into the half as Stokes led the Vols with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Sitting with two fouls throughout much of the first half, freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell picked up a quick third before being hit was his fourth foul with just over 16 minutes remaining in the game. A minute after that, Tennessee went on an 11-2 run that lasted just over three minutes. Stokes continued to make his presence felt inside scoring six of the 11 points. Armani Moore also added an open 3 from left side as the Vols’ lead jumped to 43-25.
The Gamecocks continued to fight though as a 9-3 spurt, capped by a 3 from freshman guard Duane Notice brought the deficit back to 12, but five straight from Jerrone Maymon inside quickly made it a 51-34 game with 7:27 remaining.
A three-point play from Thornwell brought the deficit to 15 with 4:33 on the clock, but that was as Carolina would get the Volunteers came away with the 59-44 victory. Despite only losing the rebounding battle 36-35, Carolina was unable to stop keep Tennessee out the paint as the Volunteers outscored the Gamecocks 32-18 around the basket.
Notice and Kacinas were right behind Williams’ nine points for South Carolina as they each finished with eight. Thornwell was one back with seven, with all them coming in second half. Despite missing 1-of-2 free throws on the day, Williams ended his career as the SEC single-season record holder in free throw percentage at 93.0, passing Ole Miss’ Chris Warren who set the previous mark in 2011 at 92.8