Gamecocks stun Vols; Barnes lauds Paris for national coach of the year

Tennessee Athletics photo / Dalton Knecht's 31 points for Tennessee were not enough in Tuesday night's 63-59 upset loss to South Carolina inside the Food City Center.
Tennessee Athletics photo / Dalton Knecht's 31 points for Tennessee were not enough in Tuesday night's 63-59 upset loss to South Carolina inside the Food City Center.

Tennessee beat South Carolina twice last season in men's basketball by 83 combined points.

This season isn't last season.

The meteoric rise of the Gamecocks under second-year coach Lamont Paris reached a new high Tuesday night with a 63-59 upset of No. 5 Tennessee inside the Food City Center. It was the first road win for South Carolina over a top-five team since Eddie Fogler's Gamecocks defeated Rick Pitino's Kentucky Wildcats in 1997.

"What a good game," said Paris, who just two seasons ago guided UTC to a 27-8 record and a Southern Conference championship. "Our guys just battled. Both teams played so hard, and our guys just made plays when we needed to. We got to the free-throw line and made some big free throws down the stretch.

"We secured the ball against really good pressure, and even when we did get out of sorts, we made a play here and there."

South Carolina improved to 18-3 overall and 6-2 in Southeastern Conference play while dropping the Volunteers to 15-5 and 5-2. Tennessee was held to its lowest point total since its surprising loss to Florida Atlantic last March in the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.

Dalton Knecht continued his scoring onslaught for Tennessee with a 31-point effort that included a 3-pointer with 31 seconds remaining that pulled the Vols within 59-56. After Myles Stute was fouled and sank a pair of free throws with 23 seconds to play, Knecht connected on another 3-pointer to make it 61-59 with five seconds left.

Stute, the transfer from Vanderbilt, was fouled with four seconds remaining and calmly sank two more free throws to account for the final.

"I don't want to take anything away from South Carolina, because I think Lamont has done an incredible job, but you can't miss 10 layups point blank," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said on the Vol Network. "They're a good basketball team, and we can't stand around and think Dalton is going to carry the load every time. It's disappointing, but give credit to South Carolina.

"They came in and did what they do."

Ta'Lon Cooper led the Gamecocks with 18 points, with B.J. Mack adding 16 and Stute 13. Santiago Vescovi was the only other Tennessee player to reach double figures, tallying 10, with junior point guard Zakai Zeigler and junior forward Jonas Aidoo combining on 2-of-14 shooting.

The Vols were 5-of-21 on 3-point attempts (23.8%) and 6-of-10 from the free-throw line (60.0%).

Tennessee's rough night began with seven missed shots and with the Gamecocks scoring the game's first seven points. The Vols regrouped to take a 16-12 lead on a J.P. Estrella layup at the 8:55 mark of the half, but their last lead would come at 22-21 on a Tobe Awaka jumper with 4:26 to go before halftime.

The Gamecocks entered as 13.5-point underdogs but led 30-26 at the break, with Tennessee making just 2-of-11 attempts from 3-point range and with Aidoo playing only seven minutes due to foul problems.

"We had a chance to build a great lead early, but you can't miss point-blank layups," Barnes said. "Again, Lamont has done a terrific job. If I had a vote right now, I would vote him for national coach of the year."

A Meechie Johnson 3-pointer 25 seconds into the second half extended South Carolina's lead to 33-26, and the Gamecocks would regain that seven-point edge at 53-46 on a Mack layup with 3:39 to play. A pair of Mack free throws with 3:05 left gave the Gamecocks their largest advantage at 55-46.

Tennessee has one of its toughest tasks of the season with Saturday night's trip to No. 10 Kentucky, while South Carolina visits Georgia on Saturday afternoon.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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