Gamecocks venture to Rocky Top

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Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said in preseason that he is hesitant to make lineup changes. Heading into tonight's home game with South Carolina, he might want to reconsider that stance.

Kenny Hall and Jordan McRae were benched after starting the Vols' first 14 games. Hall responded in Game 15 with a season-high 13-point effort while McRae added 10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and a blocked shot. Both played key roles as Tennessee upset No. 13 Florida 67-56 that day.

Trae Golden was benched Saturday night after starting the first 22 games at point guard. He promptly came off the bench in Game 23 to notch a team-high 16 points, a team-high 5 assists and 6 rebounds. He was a major reason the Vols beat Georgia 73-62.

Clearly, putting a guy's butt on the bench sends a message to his brain: Step it up or get used to sitting down. Martin insists that isn't his intention, noting: "I never really try to give a message."

Maybe he wasn't sending one but Golden received one anyway ... loud and clear.

"He may not be sending a message but it (being benched) definitely sends a message: I've got to do things better," Golden said. "It told me that he felt like I wasn't playing hard enough, so I had to come in the game and give a spark off the bench."

Golden's benching fueled speculation that he may see action at 2 guard in the weeks ahead. That speculation appears to be misguided.

"Trae's our point guard," Martin said. "In order for us to move forward as a program, he's the point guard. He won't be any 2 guard in my program. He has to be the point guard, and that's how we push forward."

Basically, occasional defensive lapses cost Golden his starting job at the point.

"I just felt like Trae needed to work hard on both ends of the floor and really lead us as a point guard," Martin said. "It was not necessarily in production or points, but just his approach and intensity level on the defensive side of the ball and really taking pride in it."

After conceding that he has "never been a defensive stopper," Golden added: "There's a lot of little things people don't see that I do that are incorrect, so that's something I need to keep working on. That probably had 98 percent to do with it (being benched) and the other two percent was me not playing hard."

Regardless, the 16 points he scored Saturday night were the most Golden had posted in six games. The 5 assists were the most in four games and the 6 rebounds were the most since the opener. Clearly, losing his starting job got his attention.

"It definitely lit a fire under me," Golden said.

Just as it lit a fire under Kenny Hall and Jordan McRae last month.

Given how positively Tennessee's players respond after being benched, Martin might consider benching at least one starter per game the rest of the season.

NOTES: Bruce Ellington, South Carolina's second-leading scorer at 10.6 points per game, also is a scholarship wide receiver for the Gamecock football team. He is a 5-foot-9, 197-pound guard for the basketball squad... South Carolina's other projected starters are 6-foot-9, 226-pound Damontre Harris (6.9 points, 5.3 rebounds per game), 6-foot-8, 235-pound Anthony Gill (8.5 points), 6-foot-6, 215-pound Malik Cooke (12.3 points) and 6-foot-4, 192-pound Damien Leonard (6.6 points).... Tennessee brings an 11-12 overall record and a 3-5 SEC mark into tonight's game. Carolina is 9-13 and 1-7.... The Vols have won the last nine games in the series, prevailing by an average of 13.5 points.... Tennessee won 73-67 in Knoxville and 73-69 in Columbia last winter.... Cameron Tatum needs six points tonight to become the 44th player in Vol history to crack the 1,000-point barrier.... Tonight's game tips off at 8 with television coverage provided by the SEC Network.

Kenny Hall (20)

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