Sam Muldrow wanted to go out on top in his final home game at the Colonial Life Arena. Muldrow had eight points, six rebounds, and three highlight reel worthy blocks in the first half alone, but Scotty Hopson and the Tennessee Volunteers had other plans. Hopson scored 16 first-half points and Tennessee used two different runs in the first half to pull away to a 40-23 halftime lead and the Vols held on late to escape with a 73-69 win Thursday and keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
"It was another case where we dug ourselves a hole because we didn't defend early on and we weren't as aggressive as we needed to be offensively," head coach Darrin Horn said. "Terrific effort to come back in the second half. (It would have been) Easy with how things have gone - especially as of late - not to do that. I thought our guys showed tremendous fight and aggressiveness."
Leading 11-9 with just over six minutes into the game, Tennessee used a 14-2 run to extend the lead to 25-11. Tobias Harris - who scored six points in the run - started the run with a pair of free throws and finished the run with a jumper just outside the lane. Hopson was fouled while dunking the ball for an old-fashioned three-point play and followed it with a three-pointer for six more points during the run.
"There were several times when Scotty Hopson - who I think is the best wing player in our league - went and made some plays against us," Horn said. "He's a guy that can go do what he wants when he wants."
The second run - a 10-1 run - gave the Vols a commanding 40-20 lead with just a minute left in the half. Ramon Galloway ended the half with a three pointer, but the Vols still had a 40-23 lead heading to the locker room.
Carolina shot just 31% from the field in the first half and only connected on 2-of-9 from behind the three point line.
The seemingly harmless Galloway three-pointer ended up providing a spark for a Carolina rally. It led to an 18-6 Gamecock run that got Carolina to within single digits at 46-38 with 13:26 left in the game.
After the teams traded baskets, Galloway scored seven straight Gamecock baskets that cut the Volunteer lead to 58-54 with 8:03 left in the game and re-energized what had been a lifeless Colonial Life Arena.
"Roman is a guy that has - quite honestly - been up and down for us and a little disappointing," Horn said. "He was a guy that we expected more from the year, but it's been hard to get him consistent. What was positive tonight was that he scored 15, but it was an efficient 15. He was 5-for-9 (and) took four three's that were all good one's. If he can continue to grow and get some consistency it will make a big difference, but he was definitely efficient tonight and did some awesome things."
The Vols responded with an 11-4 run over the next six minutes to extend the lead back to double figures, 69-58.
Ramon Galloway drained a three pointer, hit two free throws, and Muldrow had a three-point play to quickly get the Gamecocks back in the game, 69-66, with a minute to play. With the shot clock winding down, Melvin Goins came up with the big shot to extend the lead back to five and Galloway turned the ball over on a jumpball to end any hopes of a Gamecock victory.
Carolina ended the game shotting 39% after shooting 47% in the second half. Perhaps the most telling statistic of the game was the Vols connecting on 25-of-34 free throws while the Gamecocks were 12-for-13.
Muldrow ended his final home game with a double-double of 24 points and 12 rebounds to go along with five blocks.
"You can't say enough about Sam Muldrow and how he played tonight," Horn said. "He played with a tremendous desire to win and really fueled everything we did. We're glad to see him do that in his final game at the Colonial Life Arena...He's been terrific to coach and we hope to coach him a bunch more games."
Galloway added 15 and Lakeem Jackson ended with nine. Harris led all scorers with 25 points and Hopson finished with 24.
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