Vols outlast SC, 81-65

With three minutes left in Saturday's Tennessee-South Carolina basketball game, the lead was six points and the outcome seemed very much in doubt. But one team was sucking wind and the other was getting its second wind.

Second wind won.

Leading just 69-63, the 19th-ranked Vols outscored the Gamecocks 12-2 down the stretch, pulling away to win 81-65.

"We grinded this one out," UT coach Bruce Pearl said, adding: "The tempo was a factor. It was a factor when it came to fatigue at the end of the game."

"It was just our conditioning factor again," Vol forward Andre Patterson said. "We wear teams out, and then it's easier for us to get going. We feed off them, mentally and physically."

Chris Lofton, who missed seven of his first eight field-goal tries, hit six of his last seven, finishing 7 of 15 for a game-high 23 points.

"At the end of the game Chris Lofton was able to take a licking and keep on shooting and making his shots," Pearl said. "It seemed like the tireder he got, the more they went in. That's really deflating to the opponent."

After hitting just one of six tries in the first half, Lofton said teammates told him at halftime to keep firing. He did. He missed his first two second-half attempts, then finally found the range.

"At first I was having a little trouble knocking down open shots," he said. "Then I hit one in the second half and that really sparked it, I think."

Patterson recorded his third consecutive double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. C.J. Watson added 11 points and Stanley Asumnu came off the bench to contribute 10 as the Vols moved to 14-3 overall and 5-1 in SEC play. Asumnu has scored in double figures in both games since losing his starting job to Patterson earlier this week.

"Stanley is playing his way onto the bench," Pearl quipped.

The 14 wins matches UT's total for all of 2004-05, and this team still has 10 games to go, plus the SEC Tournament … and, apparently, the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee trailed by as many as seven points in the first half and led by just five (47-42) with 12 minutes remaining. That's when Lofton went off, scoring 10 points in a 16-10 spurt that widened the gap to 63-52.

Three Renaldo Balkman layups helped the Gamecocks pull within 69-63 but Dane Bradshaw maneuvered inside for a three-point play. Then, after a transition layup by Carolina's Tre Kelley, Tennessee scored the game's final nine points.

The kill shot came when Lofton nailed a 3 that boosted the lead to 75-65 with 2:20 left. JaJuan Smith stole the ensuing inbounds pass and made a free throw, then converted another backcourt steal into a driving layup. In a span of 22 seconds the lead went from 72-65 to 78-65.

Game. Set. Match. Asked about the late momentum shift, Patterson grinned broadly.

"You could see it; you could feel it," he said. "It's so much fun because one turnover can just crush ‘em. When we get in that 55 (fullcourt defense) and press ‘em we feel like the game's over with after one turnover. We feel like we're going to get two or three in a row. It gets them tired and gets us going."

Tarence Kinsey scored 12 points to pace Carolina, which slips to 11-9 overall and 2-5 in SEC play.

Tennessee forced just 11 turnovers, 7 below its season's average, but overcame this by shooting 56.3 percent in the second half and outrebounding the Gamecocks 43-30.

"South Carolina is the only team we match up with, size-wise," Pearl said. "We're not bigger than they are but they're not bigger than us.

"The difference was Andre Patterson," he added. "Andre had one rebound when we played ‘em there (three weeks ago in Columbia) and he wasn't playing as dominant a role for us. Now he is. It makes a huge difference. Andre's a great rebounder."

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