Williams helps No. 18 Tennessee outlast South Carolina 70-67
By STEVE MEGARGEE
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) South Carolina coach Frank Martin couldn't help but see the similarities between the team he faced Tuesday and the Final Four squad he coached last season.
"(Tennessee) reminds me a lot of my team last year, just a team that's tied at the hip and relentless on both ends of the floor," Martin said after the Gamecocks lost 70-67 to the 18th-ranked Volunteers.
Tennessee was just good enough Tuesday to get its NCAA Tournament drive back on track while continuing South Carolina's slide.
Grant Williams scored 22 points and made a big basket in the closing seconds as the Vols handed the Gamecocks their sixth consecutive loss.
Tennessee (19-6, 9-4 SEC) has won seven of eight and 10 of 12 overall. This latest victory served as a nice recovery three nights after Tennessee lost 78-50 at Alabama for its most lopsided defeat of the season.
"Defensively we were a much better team tonight than we were at Alabama," coach Rick Barnes said.
South Carolina (13-13, 4-9) continued to fade from postseason contention one season after its Final Four run. But the Gamecocks made this one interesting.
After trailing 68-59 with 2 1/2 minutes left, South Carolina scored eight straight points and pulled within one on Frank Booker's driving basket with 36 seconds remaining.
Tennessee answered on its next possession, with Williams scoring with 11 seconds left to make it a three-point game.
"The theme with our basketball team is it came down to one stop," Martin said. "The defensive assignment that we laid out wasn't executed. Listening has been a weakness for this team the whole year."
South Carolina spent the final seconds trying to get a potential tying 3-pointer. Barnes wanted the Vols to foul before the Gamecocks could get a shot off.
Barnes didn't get his foul, but the Gamecocks didn't get the look they wanted, either. Justin Minaya's 3-point attempt fell short of the front rim as the buzzer sounded.
"We were just being aggressive and understanding they were going to make a run," Williams said. "They'd been doing it most of the game, where they'd get it to two and we'd get it back to six or seven. It never really was a blowout of a game. You knew it was going to be competitive. They don't really quit."
South Carolina: Although the Gamecocks lost again, they deserve credit for staying close most of the way despite dealing with foul trouble. South Carolina had lost by an average margin of 21 points in the three games leading up to this one. The Gamecocks were much more competitive this time, though occasional scoring lulls proved costly and enabled Tennessee to build a 14-point lead after South Carolina had tied it early in the second half.
Tennessee: While the Vols did a nice job of recovering from their poor performance at Alabama, their inability to put away an inferior opponent at home offers some cause for concern. Tennessee had 15 turnovers and 12 assists for its third straight game with a negative assist-turnover ratio.
The teams combined for more fouls (25) than baskets in the first half (21). All those fouls forced the Gamecocks into some unusual substitutions.
Maik Kotsar and Felipe Haase already had picked up three fouls each by halftime. Kotsar ended up playing just 10 minutes, well below his season average of 27. Jason Cudd ended up playing 14 minutes, more than twice his season average.
Tennessee had fallen from No. 15 to No. 18 after the loss to Alabama. The Vols could move back into the top 15 if they win at Georgia on Saturday.
South Carolina hosts No. 10 Auburn on Saturday.
Tennessee is at Georgia on Saturday.
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This version corrects to Frank Booker instead of Chris Booker for South Carolina.
Updated February 14, 2018