Tennessee returns to its winning ways

Tennessee returns to its winning ways

February 17th, 2011 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

South Carolina's Bruce Ellington, left, drives as he's defended by Tennessee's Cameron Tatum during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

South Carolina's Bruce Ellington, left, drives as he's...

KNOXVILLE-Some of it was good, and some of it was bad.

Tennessee will probably take the win either way.

"There's a lot to be learned," UT guard Scotty Hopson said after scoring a game-high 23 points to lead the Volunteers past pesky South Carolina 73-67 at Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday night.

UT (16-10, 6-5 Southeastern Conference) snapped its three-game losing streak, and though league wins in February are always valuable, it was a mixed-bag performance for the Vols.

"I thought defensively, particularly in the first half, we made it difficult for South Carolina," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "We dominated the boards, they shot 25 percent and they only had three two-point baskets, so I though our defense was terrific.

"[South Carolina] played a lot of zone, and I thought we left a lot of shots out there. I thought we did a decent job of breaking pressure, yet 16 turnovers is too many."

The Vols led by eight at halftime and quickly pushed the lead to 12 before the Gamecocks (13-11, 4-7) cut its deficit to two midway through the second half.

Skylar McBee, who was moved to the backup point guard role behind Melvin Goins this week, nailed a 3-point shot for his only points of the game.

"He is not afraid to shoot the basketball, and I thought it was a big shot," Pearl said. "Skylar didn't even hesitate, and that's the thing Skylar will give you at the [point] is that ability. I think Skylar will continue to grow into the position.

"I thought he would have played more [than nine minutes] but Melvin was playing well. I would have liked Skylar to have gotten some more minutes."

Cameron Tatum, who scored 13 points but highlighted UT's dreadful 21-of-35 performance at the foul line by making just one of his six free throws, followed McBee's trey with five quick points to push the lead back to 10.

Pearl emphasized this week he wanted improved play from his point guards, specifically Goins. The senior scored five points on two shots, grabbed a season-high six rebounds, handed out a season-high six assists and added two steals in the 31 minutes.

But Goins had five turnovers and missed three free throws, leaving both he and his coach wanting more.

"I don't think I did a terrific job or anything," Goins said. "I just tried to get my teammates involved a little bit more. I need to do better.

"I think I had careless turnovers, just tried to overpass the ball too much sometimes. We had guys open, and I tried to force the issue with the pass a little too much. I left a lot of assists out there, whether it was me not getting the ball to guys on time or them not finishing the plays."

Said Pearl: "I thought Melvin did a better job of distributing the basketball. I asked Melvin to pass more and shoot less. Not happy with the turnovers. I want improved play, I'm definitely not satisfied with the quality of play."

Pearl did praise Goins' defense on Bruce Ellington, South Carolina's star freshman point guard who scored 15 points on 6-of-20 shooting (3-of-13 on 3-point attempts).

Malik Cooke led South Carolina with 22 points and made three of the Gamecocks' 10 3-pointers. South Carolina hung around despite 33 percent shooting thanks to 12 second-half offensive rebounds and 20 points off the Vols' 16 turnovers.

Tobias Harris scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds, but the freshman had five turnovers. Brian Williams had nine rebounds and five assists to go with his 10 points.

"Still a learning process each and every day, and this team can grow and get a lot better," Hopson said. "I just want to keep them positive, stay together and keep everyone confident."