South Carolina upends Volunteers

Published 9:52 am Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...


The University of Tennessee men’s basketball team dropped a 63-59 decision Tuesday night against South Carolina at Food City Center.

Fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht scored a game-best 31 points, his fourth time reaching that mark in the last five outings, for fifth-ranked Tennessee (15-5, 5-2 SEC) in the setback.

Email newsletter signup

South Carolina (18-3, 6-2 SEC) raced out to a 7-0 lead in the first 2:05, as the Volunteers went scoreless until the 16:12 mark. They, however, then went on an 11-2 run to go ahead, 11-9, with 11:36 on the clock.

Tennessee upped its edge to 16-12 with 8:53 left in the half, but the Gamecocks answered with a 14-6 burst to flip the four-point advantage the other way, 26-22, with 3:01 to go before the break. The visitors’ lead remained four, 30-26, entering the locker room despite 13 points from Knecht.

Both teams shot under 37.0 percent from the field in the opening session, with the Volunteers at 12-of-33 (36.4 percent) and the Gamecocks at 11-of-30 (36.7 percent). Tennessee, though, shot no free throws, while South Carolina went 4-of-6 on its attempts.

The Gamecocks’ leading scorer, junior guard Meechie Johnson, opened the second half with his lone basket, a 3-pointer just 25 seconds in to make it 33-26. Tennessee, though, scored seven straight points in 1:29 to level it at 33 with 17:47 remaining.

South Carolina pushed its lead back to six, 46-40, with 11:31 remaining, as Tennessee had a span of 7:48 without a made field goal. The Volunteers’ cold shooting extended to a 1-of-13 stretch over nearly 15 minutes, as South Carolina went up by a game-high nine, 55-46, with just 3:05 on the ticker.

Knecht responded with a personal 7-1 burst, including three straight made field goals and a free throw, in just 1:50 to slice the deficit to three, 56-53, with 1:07 to go, but graduate student guard Ta’Lon Cooper hit a 3-pointer at the other end to double the advantage 26 seconds later. A Knecht 3-pointer with 31.1 ticks to play cut the margin back down to three, 59-56.

After a pair of free throws by junior guard Myles Stute, Knecht hit another 3-pointer to make it 61-59 with 5.3 seconds left, giving him a personal 13-6 run in just 2:26. Stute, though, knocked down two more free throws at the other end to seal the victory for the Gamecocks.

Knecht, who eclipsed 30 points for the fifth time this season and third straight time at home, finished 11-of-24 from the field. The Thornton, Colo., native, who grabbed seven rebounds, became the first SEC player in exactly 14 years to record 30-plus four times in a five-game span. He also became the third Power Six player in the last decade with 190 points in a six-game stretch—the others are Marquette’s Markus Howard and Oklahoma’s Trae Young—and the first SEC player in 14 years with 25-plus points in five consecutive affairs.

Fifth-year guard Santiago Vescovi, who moved into a tie for eighth place on the SEC’s all-time made 3-pointers list, scored 10 points and notched a pair of steals.

Cooper paced the Gamecocks with 18 points and went 4-of-5 from 3-point range. Graduate student forward B.J. Mack had 16 points despite Tennessee holding him to a 4-of-15 clip, including a 1-of-8 mark from deep, as he went 7-of-8 at the stripe.

Stute logged 13 points, hitting all three of his 3-pointers and all four of his free throws. Johnson finished just 1-of-8 from the floor, but led all players with six assists.

Tennessee limited South Carolina to 19-of-56 (33.9 percent) shooting, but the Gamecocks went 15-of-18 (83.3 percent) at the line and the Volunteers were just 12-of-20 (60.0 percent). Additionally, South Carolina had a 10-of-29 (34.5 percent) mark on 3-pointers compared to Tennessee’s 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) tally.