KNOXVILLE -- Melvin Goins, like Tennessee basketball teammate Cameron Tatum, thinks history will eventually record his biggest mistake on Jan. 1 as being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Still, Goins hopes to keep atoning for a situation that embarrassed everyone associated with the 14th-ranked Volunteers.
A big step in that process could come today, when Goins -- probably UT's best on-ball perimeter defender -- will match up with South Carolina senior star Devan Downey.
Downey, the Gamecocks' All-America point guard candidate, has used every bit of his 5-foot-9 frame to terrorize the Southeastern Conference all season.
If Goins can help contain Downey, the Vols will have a great opportunity to win the game and head into a crucial week in prime position to retake first place in the SEC Eastern Division standings. And any good feeling Goins could give Vols fans would be a mutually beneficial situation.
"There's been some unfortunate situations," Goins said of his first season with the Vols, which has also included a knee surgery that's prevented him from playing at 100 percent. "I've taken a lot of things from all this. I need to have more awareness and be careful.
"But the biggest thing is I'm back now, and I'm ready to move on and help my team."
As soon as Tatum and Goins were reinstated to the team, coach Bruce Pearl started talking about the duo making restitution with the program -- including its thousands of fans.
"I think Melvin is hungry," Pearl said after team's short Friday practice. "He's hungry to make amends. He's missed a good part of the SEC season, and just like Cameron, they want to contribute.
"They're hungry, and they should be."
They should have fresher legs, too, which could benefit the Vols tonight.
UT survived a late LSU rally and held off the Tigers on Thursday night, but the Vols didn't arrive back to the Knoxville airport until nearly 3 a.m. Friday's "practice" didn't include much physical activity.
"We did no running. We did no shooting. We did nothing (except watch video and stretch)," Pearl said.
Earlier in the day, South Carolina coach Darrin Horn downplayed the potential advantage of his team's easier routine after not having played since last weekend.
"We just do whatever our schedule says," Horn said. "We had a week off. We tried to take some time off to get better individually and as a team. That just is what it is.
"The day of the game, both teams are going to have to come out and do whatever they need to do to be successful over a 40-minute period."
Success against the Gamecocks starts with slowing Downey.
"If our point guards look at this as an opportunity to guard Downey, then they will have misunderstood the scout," Pearl said. "You can't cover him by yourself. Certainly, they'll have the primary (responsibility), but this has got to be a team effort.
"He's such a unique player, and he's worth the price of admission for our fans."
Goins said it is "very exciting just to have the task of trying to guard a special player" like Downey.
"Something about him is just his willpower, and his desire for the game," Goins added. "It seems like he never gives up, with or without the ball in his hands. You just have to try to match his intensity."
Opponents have tried a variety of defenses on Downey.
"We've seen everything pretty much already," Horn said. "We've seen a little bit of junk. We've seen a little bit of face-guarding. We've seen a little bit of 'Make somebody else bring the ball up up the floor.' We've seen 'Once he gives it up, try not to let him get it back.' I don't know if we could see anything that would be new, or anything that we're not particularly prepared for. At the end of the day, it still comes down to taking care of the basketball and defending and rebounding at a level that gives us an opportunity to win.
"It's not like anybody hasn't tried to take him out already, and it's not like somebody couldn't try something else, but it still comes down to our team handling whatever we see and executing."
Goins said the Vols "haven't seen anything like (Downey) this year," and the Vols have faces exceptional point guards including Sherron Collins of Kansas and Elliot Williams of Memphis.
"You know going into the game that he's going to take a boatload of shots ... and that everything they're going to do starts with him," Goins said. "It's just what are you going to do to stop it?"
Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.