Tennessee guard Skylar McBee (13) shoots a 3-pointer as South Carolina guard Damien Leonard (32) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Adam Brimer)Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
KNOXVILLE — An injury forced Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin to shake up his starting five for the second consecutive game.
One of the guys who remained a starter made sure the result was the same.
In his second consecutive start, Skylar McBee made four 3-pointers and all six of his free throws on the way to a game-high 18 points in the Volunteers' 69-57 SEC win against South Carolina at Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday night.
"It's not about starting or finishing, it's about our five guys working as a unit when they're out there," McBee said after his career-high scoring performance. "It's one those where you hit one and you build that confidence. You fire up another one and that one goes in, then you're really not even thinking about. If you get the open space, you're firing it up."
UT (12-12, 4-5 SEC) made 10 of 20 3-point attempts and had 14 assists on 19 made field goals. The long-distance baskets were the most since the Vols made 13 on 39 attempts against UTC on Jan. 2. McBee hit treys on three consecutive trips during a 14-4 run that gave UT a 35-27 halftime lead.
"He's a guy that can make shots," said Martin, UT's first-year coach. "You have to identify him when he's on the floor. That's the most important thing, because he can stretch a defense and he can make shots. He's a threat, he's sound [and] he's solid in everything he does."
Freshman forward Jarnell Stokes didn't play after suffering a sprained right wrist in practice earlier this week. McBee slid over to shooting guard in freshman Josh Richardson's place, and Trae Golden returned to the lineup at point guard after a one-game absence and scored 16 points (7-of-7 on free throws) with four assists. Kenny Hall replaced Stokes in the lineup and scored just four points, but the junior added 10 rebounds and three blocked shots.
"I thought he played a tremendous game," Martin said of Hall. "I thought he was special on the defensive side of the ball executing and switching with guards. He came ready to play. I think the last two or three days, as a staff, we felt like he was really making his strides.
"He'll have great practices where he's communicating ... and some days he's quiet. Not that he practices bad, but he's just not into it like other days. For the past couple of days, he's had that in him and it's shown on the floor."
Martin said Stokes was day-to-day and could have played Wednesday night if the Vols needed him, but the way Hall played limited the effect of the freshman's absence. Hall's biggest impacts came late in the game.
After Richardson made a 3-pointer extended UT's lead to 49-34 with 13:44 remaining, South Carolina (9-14, 1-8) made a run that began with an 8-0 spurt on a pair of Brenton Williams treys. Bruce Ellington, who led the Gamecocks with 12 points, converted a 3-point play with 4:07 left that cut UT's lead to 58-55.
Hall split a pair of free throws, stole a pass and grabbed a tough rebound in traffic. His steal set up Golden's three-point play, and Jeronne Maymon, who had 12 points, six boards and three assists, converted a three-point play following Hall's rebound that gave UT a 65-55 lead with 2:20 left.
"[Martin's] been telling me all through practices that I've been playing hard in practices and I've been having good practices," Hall said. "I was just focused. That was my thing. Just concentrate on defending and rebounding, and I think I did a good job of that tonight."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...