Vol footing is firm at South Carolina
Posted: Friday, March 4, 2011 11:56 am
By: By PETE IACOBELLI, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Tennessee freshman Tobias Harris was glad for his stellar performance at South Carolina. He was even happier the Vols didn’t let this one slip away.
Harris had a career-high 25 points as Tennessee, which held a 20-point lead in the first half, held on to beat the Gamecocks for the ninth straight time, 73-69, on Thursday night.
“It’s about time we closed out a game the way we should’ve,” Harris said.
Scotty Hopson added 24 points, 16 of those in the opening period as the Vols (18-12, 8-7 Southeastern Conference) built a 40-20 lead at the Colonial Life Arena.
But South Carolina (14-14, 5-10) ralled after halftime to turn what looked like a blowout into a nailbiter.
The Gamecocks used a 31-18 spurt the first 12 minutes of the period to get the lead down to 58-54.
But Harris, 11-of-14 from the foul line, followed with a pair of free throws to start an 11-4 run for the Vols. Harris had two more baskets in the surge, which appeared to finally knock the wind out the Gamecocks.
South Carolina, though, had one last charge. Ramon Galloway hit a 3-pointer and two foul shots and Sam Muldrow completed a three-point play to get the Gamecocks to 69-66 with 1:06 remaining.
That’s when Melvin Goins hit a jumper with 32 seconds left to extend the lead. Galloway had one last 3-pointer for the final margin.
“I don’t think we’re playing our best basketball right now,” Hopson said. “There’s still plenty for us to do.”
Harris might help the Vols accomplish some of that. The 6-foot-8 forward was 7-of-9 from the floor and added six rebounds. He also picked up the slack with the absence of reserve center Brian Williams, who didn’t make the trip because of back problems.
Harris’ surpassed his previous high of 21 points set in his first SEC game against Arkansas.
He was just as proud of Tennessee standing firm in the face of South Carolina’s comeback. “I thought we did a good job of, when they made a run, responding to it as a team and not getting rattled,” Harris said.
Muldrow, a senior, had a career-high 24 points to lead the Gamecocks on his last regular-season game at Colonial Life Arena. Muldrow also collected 12 rebounds.
No matter how much Tennessee struggles, it can usually count on South Carolina to cure some of its problems. That remedy looked good again in this one, especially early on when Tennessee couldn’t miss and South Carolina couldn’t hit much of anything.
Bruce Ellington’s 3-pointer tied the game at 7, and then Tennessee took off on a 20-6 run.
Hopson scored eight points in the surge. He took a pass from the right side of the foul line and glided unimpeded for a jam, then followed with a silky smooth 3-pointer. By the team the coach’s son, Steven Pearl, put in a nifty reverse, the Vols were ahead 27-13.
Tennessee made about everything it threw at the bucket. It hit 10 of its first 13 shots and ended the half at over 61 percent (13 of 21).
Hopson led the way with 16 points as the Vols ended the period up 40-23.
South Carolina was 4 of 15 at one stretch and had no answers to Hopson’s high-flying game or Harris’ ability underneath.
The Gamecocks caught fire after the break as they tried to make Muldrow’s senior night one to remember. Instead, South Carolina lost for the seventh time in the past eight games to muddy what had been a promising start to SEC play.
“Unfortunately, we dug ourselves a hole when we didn’t defend well early on,” Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn said.
Muldrow, who leaves as the school’s all-time blocks leader, came out of the game to applause with 8 seconds left and the crowd broke into a “Thank you, Muldrow” chant.