KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tommy Bruner (Columbia, S.C.) scored a game high 18-points on Wednesday night as USC Upstate hung around No. 8 Tennessee for the majority of the game, a late second half run gave the Volunteers an 80-60 win over the Spartans inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee won the opening tip-off and scored the first two baskets of the game. Nevin Zink (Newtown, Conn.) scored a layup at the 19:00 mark of the first half to give the Spartans their first points of the game. A few defensive stops by the Spartans and a personal 5-0 run by Bruner gave USC Upstate a 7-6 advantage with 17:22 to play. A few moments later Victor Bailey Jr. hit a three-pointer to give the lead back to Tennessee.
Following the first media timeout the Volunteers went on a short run to extend their lead to 16-7 over the Spartans. Bryson Mozone (North Augusta, S.C.) nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key to end a scoring drought for the Spartans and pull Upstate within six-points of Tennessee.
For the remainder of the half the Spartans kept it close with the No. 8 team in the country. With 2:30 remaining in the first period of play Bruner knocked down a jumper and then stole the ball at the other end. After a missed layup, Zink hit a put-back layup to pull the Spartans within five points and force Tennessee to call a timeout. At the conclusion of the first half the USC Upstate trailed 33-26 to Tennessee.
Bruner led the team with 9-points on an efficient 4-of-8 shooting from the field. The sophomore guard also led the team in assists with four in the opening period. Zink and Mozone contributed six-points each, Everette Hammond (Silver Springs, Md.) added five points in the opening period.
Both teams started slow out of the locker room as the teams combined for four turnovers in the opening 60 seconds of game time. Tennessee scored on a pair of free throws and a step-back jumper in the paint. A scuffle for the ball at the other end forced USC Upstate to take a timeout in order to maintain possession down 37-26.
Bruner drilled a step-back three-pointer with 16:17 to play to give the Spartans their first points of the second half. On the next possession Bruner nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key and USC Upstate trailed 41-32 going into the first media timeout of the second half. A few moments later Bruner nailed a three-pointer from the logo, giving him 18-points for the game. Bruner became the first player to record five or more field goals against Tennessee this season.
The three’s began to rain down from the Spartan offense has they stayed within striking distance of Tennessee after a pair of three’s from Hammond and Mozone. A Zink hook shot in the paint pulled the Spartans within eight points at 51-43. The Volunteers then went on a 10-2 run to take a 61-45 advantage with 7:49 remaining in the game.
An alley-oop jam from Jatayveous Watson (Newnan, Ga.) was one of a few highlights down the stretch for the Spartans. Khydarius Smith (Fort Mill, S.C.) got in a dunk of his own before the end of the game.
Bruner led the Spartans with an 18-point, 6-rebound outing against the Volunteers. The sophomore guard has now scored in double-figures in four consecutive games. Hammond added 13-points, Mozone contributed 9-points and Zink had 8-points on 4-of-7 shooting. The Spartans were the first team this season to shoot at least 45 percent from the field against Tennessee. USC Upstate also shot an efficient 9-of-18 from three-point range against the Volunteers.
Victor Bailey Jr. led the Volunteers with 18-points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field. Josiah-Jordan James added 11-points and a team high 8 rebounds, John Fulkerson added 10-points in the win for Tennessee. Santiago Vescovi led the team with 8 assists and 9-points.
UP next for the Spartans
The Spartans will take a break over the Christmas holiday and will travel to High Point for a two game series on December 30-31.