Vols vs. Cocks, part 3

After two regular-season losses to Tennessee, South Carolina is hoping the third time's the charm when it faces the Vols Friday at 1 (EST) in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals at Nashville's Gaylord Entertainment Center.

The Gamecocks (16-14) earned their berth in the quarters by beating Mississippi State 59-44 Thursday. The Vols (21-6) advanced via a first-round bye.

Renaldo Balkman scored 12 points, Tre' Kelley and Tarence Kinsey 11 each for Carolina, which committed just four turnovers, something head coach Dave Odom described as "almost unheard-of at this time of year."

The Gamecocks were guilty of just 12 turnovers in a 76-69 loss to UT Jan. 8 in Columbia and 11 in an 81-65 loss Jan. 28 in Knoxville. The only team all year to commit fewer turnovers against the ball-hawking Vols was Arkansas, which made just 10 in beating Tennessee 73-69 on Feb. 25.

Following the win over Mississippi State, Odom was asked about the two earlier games with Tennessee.

"They were close and they got away from us," he said. "You know, I would think more than any team in our league, Tennessee is a team that you've got to play from beginning to end without taking any time off, i.e., making mistakes."

Odom called the Vols "a team that preys on your mistakes more readily than any team in our league." He recalled that Carolina had a 40-25 lead with 18:25 left in the game at Columbia before falling victim to a furious Tennessee rally. Chris Lofton sparked the comeback with four 3-pointers.

"We made two, three turnovers, missed a couple of free throws, front ends of the 1 and 1s," Odom said. "Next thing you know you've got Lofton and company launching 3s from Knoxville and making them…. They're never out of it because they take a great deal of pride in their pressure…. They take a great deal of pride in their ability to shoot deep shots under pressure, both guarded and unguarded."

The game in Columbia was the SEC opener for both schools. The fact Tennessee rallied to win it was "a devastating blow to our confidence level," Odom said.

Carolina played the Vols tough in the rematch at Knoxville, trailing just 72-65 entering the final 2½ minutes.

"I thought we had a chance to do some good things there if we get a shot there," Odom said. "You know, you put a little bit of pressure on them and maybe get them to turn the ball over, miss a shot. You got a chance to win away from home."

That chance quickly evaporated, however. Lofton nailed a 3 from the corner. JaJuan Smith stole Carolina's ensuing inbounds pass and made a free throw, then converted another steal into a driving layup. Smith tacked on another free throw, then Andre Patterson made a putback as UT scored the game's final nine points, turning a seven-point lead into a 16-point victory.

"Showing what a great team they are, they turned that moment into a 16-point lead in less than a minute and a half," Odom recalled. "There was a sequence of events there that blew my mind. I couldn't believe what happened. They all happened right there in front of my bench, and again it just shows you what a great team they have, a team that plays from beginning to end."

So, what will Odom tell his team to prepare it for a third meeting with Tennessee?

"The slant that I'm going to give our team (is) no possession is off," he said. "You've got to protect the ball. You've got to attack.

"They're going to hit shots. You've got play past that and through that. You can't give them steals or second shots. You can't give them unforced turnovers. You got to make them earn everything they get."

After two hard-fought losses to Tennessee, Odom is hopeful his team can change the script in meeting No. 3.

"Perhaps," he said, "it will be that special day when things are just right and we have the ball at the end and we can make the shot and we can win the game."


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