KNOXVILLE - As Jeronne Maymon threw a bounce pass from the free-throw line toward an open Jarnell Stokes underneath the basket, Jordan McRae shouted some advice to his two Tennessee teammates.
It really was that simple for the Volunteers.
Coming off a frustrating midweek loss at Vanderbilt, Tennessee beat South Carolina 72-53 Saturday afternoon in front of a better-than-expected crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols outscored South Carolina 24-6 in the paint in the first half and finished with 38 paint points in notching their 13th straight win against the Gamecocks.
"I'm not so concerned with bounce-backs from losses," Stokes said after powering his way to 17 points and eight rebounds against the smaller Gamecocks. "My concern is coming out and playing hard and avoiding those flat games that we have. History tells us we may have a flat game coming soon when we've been playing very well.
"We've just got to understand our history, and we've got to know that any game we can lose."
Tennessee (15-8, 6-4 SEC) made it clear from the start it wasn't going to lose this one.
The Vols scored the game's first 10 points and led 16-2 less than seven minutes into the game, with many of their points coming on layups.
Then McRae, the Vols' leading scorer, got going offensively. He scored 20 of his 24 points in the first half, when he shot 7-of-11 from the field and hit five 3-pointers. He popped one 3 from the wing over Laimonas Chatkevicius, South Carolina's 6-foot-11 Lithuanian, on a crossover dribble and stepback move and stepped into a straightaway triple to end the half.
Stokes added 13 points before halftime, including a reverse dunk followed by another slam in transition off a feed from McRae, and the Vols led 45-22 at the break in moving to 7-1 following losses this season.
"We've done a solid job in bouncing back after a loss, especially after some tough losses, mental losses," coach Cuonzo Martin said. "We've done a good job of bouncing back and getting ready to go. It's always tricky, because you never know the mental state of your guys.
"Sometimes in practice, you're going through practice and getting ready for a game, but I thought the guys did a good job."
South Carolina (8-15, 1-9), which hammered a Texas A&M team that won in Knoxville by 28 points, trimmed a 24-point lead to 13 with a 10-0 run midway through the second half. Armani Moore hit a 3 for the Vols to halt the run, before McRae's 3-pointer and Maymon's layup in transition replenished their comfortable lead.
In each of their four SEC losses, including the down-to-the-wire defeats to Texas A&M and Vanderbilt, the Vols have responded by winning games by 11, 7, 16 and 19, but that's only made the stumbles more maddening.
"Kentucky on the road, Florida on the road, you know, we want to win those, but those are tough," McRae said. "The one we lost here to A&M, we're not supposed to lose that one. We're not supposed to lose against Vanderbilt.
"We know that as a team, we've got to do a better job of letting two wins turn into three, and three turn into four, instead of two wins and lose, two wins and lose. That's tough."
In a game that certainly wasn't, Tennessee shot nearly 53 percent, hit seven 3s and was largely unchallenged.
"Tennessee is a really good team," said Frank Martin, South Carolina's second-year coach. "I don't want to hear this nonsense I read about or hear on TV. They're real good. They're a real good basketball team and we play in a really good league."
The best team in that league now awaits the Vols. Tuesday night they host third-ranked Florida, which is 10-0 in the SEC and on a 15-game winning streak and hammered Tennessee by 26 in Gainesville 15 days ago.
"Did I know Florid was after this one? Yeah. Was I thinking about the game plan against Florida? No," McRae said.
"I'll think about it now. Me be an older guy especially, I know that if we'd have dropped this game, that's when it turns into when people start to pressing: 'We must win, we must win, we must win.'
"Us getting a nice win today, everybody's spirits are high."
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