Vols Persevere in Ugly Conference Win Over South Carolina

Cory Sanning

If there is one thing Rick Barnes and Tennessee basketball have gotten used to recently, it is being in low-scoring, down-to-the-wire games.

That trend continued as the Vols hosted South Carolina on Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Behind 15 points and 10 rebounds from John Fulkerson, 13 points from Santiago Vescovi and a 10-point performance from Josiah-Jordan James, Tennessee was able to overcome tremendous shooting woes to down the Gamecocks 56-55 for its second conference win of the season.

Jordan Bowden finished with just six points, shooting 1-of-17 from the floor in perhaps the worst shooting performance of his career

Maik Kotsar led South Carolina (8-7, 0-2 SEC) with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting as both teams combined for 38 total turnovers.

That turnovers and missed shots weren’t what was on Barnes’ mind immediately following the final buzzer, however. He instead chose to focus on the effort that his team played with.

“It was a hard-fought game and I thought our guys played as hard as they could play,” Barnes said. “To do what South Carolina can do to you...but our guys played really really hard.”

The game didn’t seem to be trending in that direction to start, however.

Tennessee (10-5, 2-1 SEC) came out of the gates firing, notching the first period’s opening seven points before the Gamecocks would answer with a 8-0 run of their own. From that point, it would be a monumental struggle for both teams to put the ball in the basket.

For the Vols, the inability to put up points would prove troublesome. UT got plenty of open looks, but simply struggled to make the most of them.

Turnovers didn’t help, either.

Vescovi tallied five giveaways in the first half alone as South Carolina took advantage of Tennessee’s miscues.

At one point, the Vols didn’t score for over 10 minutes and appeared helpless in finding a solution.

The Gamecocks would head into halftime with the lead, but the physicality of Frank Martin’s team and their disruptive nature were exactly what James and the rest of the Vols expected throughout the week.

“They like to disrupt, so you’re definitely going to have to scrap and fight,” James said. “Going into this game, we knew it would be physical and it could get ugly and that’s what is was.”

Coming out of the locker room, it appeared as if the Vols were in for a long 20 minutes, but in the end, it was UT’s perseverance that allowed it to rebound from a poor showing.

With 3:16 to play in the second half, the Vols were ahead by just two and were in need of a play. At that point, neither team could buy a basket.

That’s when Fulkerson stepped in, and it was the little things courtesy of the Kingsport, Tennessee native that pushed Tennessee across the finish line. His putback dunk gave the Vols a four-point lead that they did not relinquish.

Fulkerson’s offensive rebound and willingness to take a charge would further help seal the deal, and ultimately gave both the team and home crowd a reason to cheer.

“When it comes down to it, those are game-winning plays,” Drew Pember said. “It gets the crowd going, it gets us going and it just gives you a lot of confidence.”

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