KNOXVILLE -- Tired-legged Tennessee looked fresher than well-rested South Carolina on Saturday night.
Or perhaps the Volunteers are just that much better than the Gamecocks.
For whatever reason, less than 48 hours after a late Thursday night win at LSU, UT annihilated the Gamecocks in a 79-53 Southern Conference game that could have been much uglier.
"We had it going on," said senior forward Wayne Chism, who led UT with a career-high 30 points on 10-for-15 shooting and spent the last few minutes reclining near the student section in Thompson-Boling Arena.
South Carolina struggled offensively despite a game-free midweek schedule. The Gamecocks, from star senior point guard Devan Downey to the end of their bench, shot less than 30 percent from the floor in both halves.
The Vols (18-4, 6-2) controlled South Carolina (13-9, 4-4) after both teams struggled offensively in the opening minutes, and UT's 30-16 halftime lead expanded quickly in the second half. Walk-on Steven Pearl's reverse layup with 8 minutes, 43 seconds left gave the Vols a 65-38 lead.
"I didn't feel comfortable in my preparation for this game until sometime around lunchtime today. I just didn't," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "I watched tape from the time we got done in Louisiana until about lunchtime today, and I was really concerned last night. I wasn't sure that we had a game plan that was going to be effective, or that I even knew what our game plan was going to be until I really delivered it in the early afternoon to our kids.
"Obviously, we played really well on both ends of the floor, especially on the defensive end."
UT's game plan wasn't overly complex. The Vols wanted to forced the ball inside to Chism on offense, because South Carolina shot-blocker Sam Muldrow plays behind opponents on the low block. Defensively, UT simply had to find some way to contain Downey, midseason favorite for SEC player of the year.
Downey, who entered the game scoring 31.6 points per game in SEC play, scored half his 26 points from the free-throw line. He shot just 5-for-20 from the floor and 3-for-9 from 3-point range.
"One guy cannot guard Devan Downey," Pearl said, echoing his pregame mantra. "You have to guard him with a team. We cupped him. You just try to build a wall.
"I thought we did a great job defensively against him. He got a lot of his points in the second half from the foul line."
Chism was the only 30-point scorer on the floor Saturday night. And UT's eccentric big man scored from nearly all over the floor.
"I felt fresher than I thought I would," said Chism, who played 32 minutes Thursday night at LSU. "I took some little ice baths and some little heated baths back and forth, and that relaxed my legs. And then I went home and took a nice nap and ate some good, hot food.
"The crowd got behind us, and we were shooting it good and playing good defense and really getting after it out there. It was just a really good game."
South Carolina coach Darrin Horn credited Chism's inside presence for changing the game.
"Chism outplayed us," Horn said. "He had not finished like that all year long. He is a terrific player. I thought he did a great job of finishing over the top of our guys. He outplayed our guys. It really is that simple.
"The key tonight is we were not very good offensively, especially in the first half. We were really stagnant offensively. Defensively, we were good enough."
UT senior Bobby Maze again played a solid game against marquee point-guard opposition. Maze played tough defense on Downey and finished with 11 points, six rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes.
Sophomore guard Scotty Hopson, the only other Vol with more than seven points, finished with 11 points. UT spread the love in the second half, shooting better than 55 percent from the floor.
"It's always a good feeling when you take it to a pretty good basketball team," said freshman forward Kenny Hall, who had seven points and a UT-high 11 rebounds. "Those guys beat Kentucky when they were the No. 1 team in the nation, but we took it right to them and had a good game."
The Vols now embark on what Steven Pearl called "our biggest week of the regular season." They'll play at No. 18 Vanderbilt on Tuesday and at No. 4 Kentucky on Saturday.
"If we play like we can, we'll have a great chance to win both of those games," Hall said. "But we have to go out there on the road and do it."
Junior center Brian Williams returned from his nine-game suspension Saturday. He dressed against South Carolina but didn't play, likely because he hadn't practiced with the team in five weeks.
Williams was one of four Vols arrested on Jan. 1, but all except dismissed senior star Tyler Smith have now returned to the team. Junior point guard Melvin Goins and sophomore guard Cameron Tatum -- who left Saturday's game with a rough-looking ankle injury -- returned before the Jan. 23 game at Georgia.
"Stress has a way of taking pounds off," Pearl said in reference to the Williams' noticeably trimmer frame. "It's good to have Brian back. He was very, very grateful, and very emotional about being back. We'll go from here. We want to continue to do positive things. The team was happy that he was there. He was happy that he was there.
"We'll work him in, but I don't think the rotation is going to change (immediately)."
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