Halftime magic

Tennessee played one of its worst halves of the year in the first 20 minutes against South Carolina Saturday night. The Vols shot just 40 percent from the floor, including 18.2 percent (2 of 11) from beyond the arc. They had more turnovers (9) than assists (5) and scored just 33 points.

The Big Orange was a different team in the second half, however, shooting 56.3 percent, while recording 13 assists and just 2 turnovers. As a result, the Vols outscored the Gamecocks 48-37 and won going away 81-65.

Whatever buttons head coach Bruce Pearl pushed during the break, they were the right buttons.

"We were fortunate to be ahead at halftime," he said. "I didn't think we played particularly well. We didn't shoot it well, we turned the ball over too much. We were disrupted by some things South Carolina did. They ran some switching defenses and a little bit of zone. We got to standing around a little bit, didn't get very good looks.

"I thought in the second half a lot of that changed."

Obviously. Tennessee's offense began operating much more smoothly. The passing lanes opened wide. The turnovers ground to a halt. The inside game sprang to life and the outside shots began falling. The obvious question: Why?

"I thought we settled down a little bit and started to look to score within the framework of our offense," Pearl said. "The spacing was better."

The coach recognized that the Vols were inactive and poorly spaced early on but couldn't seem to convey the message to his troops until they gathered in the locker room at intermission.

"I would've liked if we could've accomplished that during a timeout … during the first half," he said, "but I couldn't."

A key factor in the dramatic turnaround was the fact Tennessee was shooting at the basket near the Vol bench in the second half. This enabled Pearl to exert more influence on UT's offensive execution.

"I had the offense in front of me," he said. "We were sharp in our spacing and our movement."

And Carolina's upset hopes were history.

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