"It was a special, special outing," Pearl said on his post-game radio show.
Only for a half, though. The Vols made just one of their first nine field-goal tries and went to intermission with season lows in points (23) and field-goal percentage (31.0 on nine-of-29 shooting). The fact they trailed by just 12 points (35-23) could be attributed to great hustle and good defensive play.
When Carolina opened the second half with a 5-2 spurt that built the bulge to 15 points, Tennessee's outlook appeared bleak. But, suddenly finding the range from outside, the Vols hit the Gamecocks with a barrage of bombs that silenced the home crowd and turned the game around.
Chris Lofton, Dane Bradshaw and JaJuan Smith hit back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers as the Vols closed to 43-36. Threes by Jordan Howell and Lofton whittled the deficit to 47-42. An inside bucket by South Carolina native Major Wingate (from Florence) gave the Vols their first lead of the game, 55-54 with 7:50 to play.
A driving three-point play and another 3-point bomb by Smith gave Tennessee a 63-59 cushion, then Lofton and Watson drained treys that widened the gap to 69-60 with 3:42 to play. Carolina pulled within four but Bradshaw landed the knockout punch with a 3 from the left corner that gave the Vols a 74-67 lead with 31 seconds remaining.
A split-second after releasing his game-clinching 3-pointer, the usually low-key Bradshaw turned to the bench and began celebrating.
"I probably won't ever do that again," he said. "But I was pretty sure that was going in."
Bradshaw was an unlikely hero, entering Sunday's play with just five 3-pointers in 22 attempts over the first 10 games. But he had his coach's endorsement on this one.
"I know there was some time left on the shot clock," Pearl said, "but I would've been upset with him if he turned that shot down…. If he turned down that shot, he puts his four teammates in a bad position. Ain't nobody else going to have a better look.
"I'm glad he took it. I'm even happier he made it."
After being awful in the first 20 minutes, Tennessee was awesome in the final 20 minutes. The Vols committed just one turnover. They hit 18 of 28 from the floor (64.3 percent) and 10 of 13 from beyond the arc (76.9 percent). After managing just 23 first-half points, Tennessee scored 53 second-half points.
"Where does this second half rate?" Pearl asked. "We score 53 second-half points against a team that (on average) holds teams to 59 for the game. We shoot 77 percent from 3 and 65 percent from the field and we're seven of ten from the foul line. It's got to go down as one of the best offensive halves in Tennessee basketball history."
Lofton hit six of seven 3-pointers (he was 0 for 3 inside the arc) and finished with a team-high 18 points as the Vols moved to 10-1 overall and 1-0 in Southeastern Conference play. Watson chipped in 17, Bradshaw 14 and Smith 13.
Tarence Kinsey scored 18 and Rocky Trice 15 for Carolina, which slips to 9-5 and 0-1.
Tennessee returns to action Wednesday night, hosting Georgia at 7:30 in Thompson-Boling Arena.