Vols hold off Carolina, 63-56

When South Carolina whittled a 13-point deficit to two (48-46) with 5:51 to go in Saturday's game at Tennessee, the Vols appeared on the verge of a costly collapse. Then Scooter McFadgon came to the rescue.

McFadgon hit an 18-footer and a 3-pointer, bumping the lead to 53-46. Then, after a Brandon Crump tip-in, McFadgon nailed a jumper from the baseline as the lead swelled to 57-49 with 2:27 remaining. Carolina closed to 59-54 but McFadgon drained two free throws with 45.7 seconds left, and the Vols went on to win 63-56.

The Vols improve to 15-12 overall - assuring themselves of a winning season - and 7-9 in SEC play. Carolina slips to 21-9 and 8-8. The slumping Gamecocks have lost six of their last eight games.

Tennessee shot 55 percent from the floor and nailed 14 of 19 free throw attempts. Defensively, the Vols played one of their better games -- holding Carolina to 37 percent from the field and just 5 of 19 shooting from 3-point range. Still, the Vols had to gut out the final minutes to win.

''Our guys really played their hearts out,'' head coach Buzz Peterson said on his post-game show.

The Vols have played reasonably well the past three games -- beating Auburn, losing by three at Vanderbilt and then beating Carolina.

''I'm really encouraged by 'em,'' Peterson said. ''There's been a positive attitude. We beat a very good basketball team in South Carolina.''

Perhaps, but it was a South Carolina team hampered by the absence of injured big man Rolando Howell. Tennessee exploited this by getting the ball inside to 6-10 Crump and 6-10 Major Wingate in the first half. Crump was four of four from the field, Wingate three of three as the Vols went to the break on top 32-21.

Tennessee widened the gap to 13 (38-25) five minutes into the second half, then went to sleep. The Vols quit attacking the basket and began milking the clock. The strategy backfired, enabling Carolina to make a 15-4 run that narrowed the gap to 42-40. It was still a two-point game (48-46), when McFadgon took control.

McFadgon finished with 17 points. Crump was 7 of 7 from the floor and chipped in 15 points. C.J. Watson added 15 points and 6 assists.

Josh Gonner, who had 24 points in the earlier game at Columbia, led Carolina with 13 points. Kerbrell Brown added 11 and Mike Boynton 10. Carlos Powell hit just 2 of 11 shots and finished with 4 points.

Tennessee will play Thursday in the SEC Tournament in Atlanta. The time and opponent are dependent on the outcome of tonight's Vanderbilt-Georgia game.

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