In a basketball game containing far more defense than offense, Tennessee returned to its winning ways Tuesday night inside Thompson-Boling Arena with a 66-46 thumping of South Carolina.
That it was far from free-flowing surprised nobody, as the No. 22 Volunteers held Frank Martin's Gamecocks to 34.7% shooting while forcing 23 turnovers.
"South Carolina and Tennessee mirror each other I think more than any two teams in the league," Vols seventh-year coach Rick Barnes said. "When I got here and tried to show an example of what it takes to play high-level defense those first couple years, we would watch South Carolina tape with our players and say, 'This is what it takes to win on nights you're not shooting well.'
"I've known Frank Martin forever, and I know what it was like playing against him when he was at Kansas State. To get to the standard we wanted, South Carolina was the team we emulated. Grant (Williams) and those guys would tell you that they learned a lot from watching those teams."
Tennessee made 7-of-21 attempts from 3-point range, with that 33.3% clip serving as its high-water mark in Southeastern Conference play, in improving to 11-4 overall and 2-2 within the league. The Vols, however, were a grisly 11-of-25 from the free-throw line (44.0%).
The Gamecocks fell to 10-5 and 1-2.
Santiago Vescovi led Tennessee with 14 points, while Josiah-Jordan James and Zakai Zeigler each chipped in 11 and John Fulkerson 10. James went 2-of-4 from 3-point range and also had 12 rebounds.
"I thought Josiah was terrific tonight," Barnes said. "He had a double-double, but this team looks at him, and they know that he'll find a way to help some way and some how."
Said Zeigler: "He's the X-factor of the team."
Fulkerson had only played 35 of a possible 85 minutes in Tennessee's previous two games against Ole Miss and LSU, which followed his return from a positive COVID-19 test that forced him to miss the league opener at Alabama on Dec. 29. On Tuesday, he logged 28 minutes.
"John took himself out of the game a couple times, which is what we said to him," Barnes said. "We don't know where he is or how he's feeling, but I thought he worked hard in the post tonight."
A James Reese 3-pointer at the 15:36 mark of the first half staked South Carolina to an 8-2 lead over the frigid Vols, who did not make their first field goal until Zeigler's layup with 14:45 before halftime. Tennessee missed its first five attempts from 3-point range before Zeigler connected with 2:07 left in the half to put the Vols up 22-21.
Tennessee made its final three 3-pointers before intermission, with James connecting as the horn sounded for a 30-24 advantage.
"That felt really good," James said. "Coming out of my hands and just watching it the whole way through, I had a really good feeling about it. Going into halftime and hitting that shot was big."
The Vols were sharp at the start of the second half, as Olivier Nkamhoua made a jumper and then found Kennedy Chandler for a layup within the first two minutes to establish a 10-point lead at 34-24. Reese, who scored a game-high 15 points, made a jumper at the 17:43 mark to make it 34-26, but that was the last single-digit margin of the game.
A Zeigler layup at the 14:20 mark extended the lead to 45-29, and a Victor Bailey layup with 36 seconds remaining gave Tennessee its largest lead at 66-44.
"It's the speed of the game," Barnes said. "When we get the speed going, the ball is simply moving. It's not sticking in anybody's hands. The ball has got to get popping."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.