Vols host Cocks at 7

Tennessee basketball fans thought they had seen the last of South Carolina's Devan Downey last spring. Well, maybe not.

The Gamecocks will showcase another diminutive dandy when they invade Thompson-Boling Arena for tonight's 7 o'clock tipoff against the Big Orange. Like Downey, freshman Bruce Ellington is a dynamic 5-foot-9 point guard who isn't afraid to take the ball at the big guys inside.

"Ellington is a terrific point guard," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said this week. "He leads them in scoring (13.9 points per game), assists (77) and minutes played (31.3). He's going to remind people of a younger Devan Downey. He's a tough cover."

Point guard clearly looms as a key battle tonight since Tennessee has struggled at the position lately. Senior Melvin Goins remains No. 1 at that spot but sophomore Skylar McBee is replacing freshman Trae Golden as the No. 2 point guard, with senior Josh Bone supplanting McBee as the No. 2 shooting guard. Pearl hopes this shakeup will provide a backcourt spark. Over the past three games - all losses - Goins has produced 2 assists and 3 turnovers, Golden 4 assists and 5 turnovers.

Another interesting battle will be in the post, where Tennessee's Brian Williams will be challenging Carolina's Sam Muldrow. The 6-10, 270-pound Williams is averaging 8.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in SEC play. The 6-9, 229-pound Muldrow averages 10.8 points and 7.1 rebounds this season, while leading the league in shot blocks at 4.5 per game in conference play.

"Sam Muldrow is an inside player that can play the 4 or the 5," Pearl said. "He's the leading shot-blocker in the SEC, so you've got to know where he is at all times. He's just a tremendous force in there defensively."

Both Tennessee (15-10 overall and 5-5 in SEC play) and South Carolina (13-10, 4-6) play their best at a quick pace, so tonight's game should feature a reasonably brisk tempo.

"They're a young team, an athletic team, a quick team," Pearl said. "They press. They're uptempo. They get after you. They force a lot of turnovers. They steal the ball more than most teams in our league, so it's a tough time to go in with struggling point-guard play."

This could be a tough time mentally for the Vols, as well. They outplayed Florida last Saturday in Gainesville only to blow the game in the final 30 seconds and lose 61-60. Tennessee has suffered several painful losses this season but that one appeared to be the most hurtful yet. Thus, the question arises: How will the Vols respond?

"Through it all, a lot of things (about the team's character) will get revealed," Pearl conceded. "It's another tough bounce-back. But the good thing is: I want to focus on the fact we played well (for 39 minutes at Florida). What did we do and what do we need to do to continue to play well?"

GAME NOTES: South Carolina starters, in addition to Muldrow and Ellington, project to be freshman Demontre Harris, sophomores Lakeem Jackson and Ramon Galloway. Harris is a 6-9, 214-pounder who averages 3.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Jackson is a 6-5, 230-pounder who averages 8.2 points and 5.8 rebounds. Galloway is a 6-2, 176-pounder who averages 10.4 points per game.... Pearl stands 8-2 vs. South Carolina and has swept the last seven meetings. He is 4-0 against current Gamecock head man Darrin Horn.... Carolina leads the SEC in offensive rebounds (14.3 per game), yet has a minus-1.3 rebound margin overall.... Several seats in Thompson-Boling Arena's lower level are available in section 126.... Tonight's game will be televised by Cox SportsSouth.


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