Attack mode

What started out as a South Carolina block party ended with Tennessee doing the celebrating Wednesday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Determined to attack the rim early and often against a switching Gamecock defense, the Vols got the ball to 6-10 center Brian Williams, only to see his first shot blocked by Sam Muldrow. So they got the ball to Williams again, only to see his second shot blocked by Muldrow. So they got the ball to Williams again, only to see yet another shot blocked by Muldrow.

Instead of conceding the paint to Muldrow, who leads the SEC in blocked shots at nearly five per game, the Vols continued feeding the post and attacking the rim. The result: Muldrow finished the evening with 6 blocks and teammate Damontre Harris added one, but Tennessee's aggressiveness ultimately produced 23 baskets, 35 trips to the foul line and a 73-67 victory.

The 35 free throws is especially noteworthy, since the Vols were averaging an SEC-worst 14.8 foul shots per game in 10 previous conference outings.

"I thought we did a good job of driving it and posting it," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "They still blocked seven shots but when you go up against a team that's second or third in the nation in blocked shots they're going to challenge you at the rim. That's what they do.

"I thought it was a good sign that we continued to go at 'em."

No Vol was more inclined to "go at 'em" than junior wing Scotty Hopson. Criticized for his timidity at times, he showed no hesitance to attack the rim Wednesday night, numbering several spectacular dunks among his seven made baskets.

"I tried to have that mindset the whole game," he said. "Definitely at times you've got to slow it down, be poised and patient with the basketball. But when the opportunities were in front of me I definitely tried to take advantage of it."

Despite Muldrow's first-half shot-blocking exhibition, Tennessee attacked the basket with even more determination after intermission. The result was 22 second-half free throw attempts.

"That was part of that aggression, that attack mode, that mindset to get to the rim," Hopson said. "We knew they was in zone but when they were in man we definitely tried to get to the rim, get the ball to Brian and make some plays at the basket."

Because South Carolina is a bad team, the Gamecocks may not provide much of a barometer. Still, the Vols appeared to be moving the ball pretty crisply Wednesday night.

"We were definitely trying to keep the ball moving around the perimeter, keep the defense shifting," Hopson said. "At times we didn't move enough and there were possessions that were empty but, for the most part, I felt like we shared the ball well."

Well enough to win, ultimately.

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