Gamecocks Rediscover Winning Ways
The match up featured Kelley and Tennessee's sharpshooting guard Chris Lofton. Kelley and Lofton are among the favorites for SEC Player of the Year and two of the top three scorers in the conference. On the game, Kelley clearly got the better of his counterpart, with 25 points and 5 assists against 13 points and 3 assists for Lofton. Kelley fed off the disappointment of the losing streak, saying after the game, "We needed this as bad as you need a win, especially to change our confidence level, and that's exactly what we did. We made shots and when we came out in the second half, our confidence was really high."
The teams matched baskets early in the game, and Carolina led just 12-9 when it made the first run of the game. Behind Brandon Wallace, the Gamecocks went on an 8-2 run. Wallace dominated all aspects of the game during the run, blocking shots on defense and playing well on offense, getting points for himself or teammates. The Gamecocks eventually stretched the lead to 11 on a three pointer by Kelley that made the score 28-17.
The Vols responded with a run of their own, holding Carolina without a field goal for the next 4 minutes as they pulled back to 28-26. However, during the under 4 media timeout, Duke Crews drew a technical foul. Kelley sank both free throws and snapped the Gamecocks out of their funk, as the Gamecocks were able to take a 36-31 lead into the half.
"We had a decent lead, a decent working margin," said Odom, "then I thought we went to sleep for about 2-3 minutes there, and they went on a 9-0 run. It was made possible because we quit rebounding the ball, we took at least three [ill-advised] shots, and we let them get to the rim on us."
There have been a number of games this season in which Carolina has played well in the first half, only to wear down in the second half. However, on this day, it was the Gamecocks, not their opponents, that came out of the half on fire. Three pointers by Kelley and Brandis Raley-Ross jump started the run, and after 9 minutes of play, Carolina led 61-40 on the heels of a 25-9 run. During the run, Tennessee was called for two more technical fouls, as they began to self-destruct.
While the Gamecocks have some familiarity with playing out the final minutes of a game that is out of hand, they have not been on the good side of such a game very often. Carolina only trailed for 3:06 minutes, after JaJuan Smith hit a pair of baskets to start the game. The lead ballooned to as much as 25 before Tennessee's starters made it a more respectable 17 point loss against Carolina's reserves. "That was the most complete game that we've played against SEC competition," Odom said.
The Gamecocks committed just 8 turnovers against Tennessee's press, leading to 13 points. USC scored 16 points off of Volunteer turnovers. Wallace's ability to bring the ball up the court was a factor in how Carolina broke the press, and forced Tennessee to mostly abandon it.
- Brandis Raley-Ross made his second start in a row, after beginning the game on the bench for the previous seven games. He responded with his best SEC game, as he totaled 12 points and 7 rebounds along with a few timely shots.
- Once again, the Colonial Center was only about 1/3 full, even though fans were given pom-poms and students received t-shirts as well. Making matters worse, it seemed that about half the fans in attendance wore orange. Perhaps the loud cheers for the Vols tricked the Gamecocks, who have struggled at home, into thinking they were on the road. "We have not played well at home," Odom acknowledged, adding that he hopes the win will help Carolina get back some home court advantage. Bryce Sheldon echoed the sentiment, saying, "Coach has been telling us not only to make the Colonial Center our house, but to make it our home, and we did that today."
- USC tied their season high with 13 three pointers againt the Vols.
- Chad Gray sat out the game, and will not test his injured toe until Monday.
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