'Big Dog' bites Gamecocks

Sometimes you just have to get out of the way and let the Big Dog eat. Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena was one of those times.

Playing the "Big Dog" role to perfection, Tennessee's 6-9, 245-pound Wayne Chism scored a career-high 30 points in leading the 14th-ranked Vols to a 79-53 pasting of the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Chism hit 11 of 17 shots, including 2 of 4 from beyond the arc. He also sank 6 of 8 free throws, blocked 3 shots, tied for the team lead with 3 assists, grabbed 4 rebounds and contributed a steal in 29 sensational minutes.

Chism clearly has become Option 1 for the Vols. The past three games have seen him take 16, 15 and 17 shots - his three highest totals for the season.

"That's crazy, right?" he said, grinning broadly.

Not really. Getting the ball to Chism is the smartest thing the Vols could do.

"That's been a big emphasis," freshman Kenny Hall said. "He's the Big Dog. You've got to feed the Big Dog. The Big Dog's got to eat."

Saturday night the Big Dog ate South Carolina's lunch.

"I knew this game was coming," Vol point guard Bobby Maze said. "I just didn't know how soon it was going to come ... a breakout game for Wayne. He did a good job of catching the ball inside and finishing around the basket. Coach kept saying, 'Keep feeding him the ball,' and we did."

Naturally right-handed, Chism scored several of his 11 baskets with his left hand, a knack that makes him especially difficult to stop.

"Wayne can finish with his left or right hand," Maze noted. "Sometimes Wayne makes shots with his left hand better than most guys do with their right."

Hall, who serves as the No. 2 post behind Chism, might be his teammate's biggest fan.

"Every time he does something crazy, I'm on the bench doing something crazy right along with him," Hall said. "I'm scared I might get a technical running onto the floor or something. In fact, I think I actually did that. I enjoy watching him play, and that gives me the energy to go in there and try to do the same thing he does."

Although conceding that he did "a great job" individually, Chism also credited his success to the quick pace created by Maze and backup point guard Melvin Goins. Tennessee wound up outscoring Carolina 22-3 in fast-break points.

"I was very comfortable, especially with the way my point guards pushed the ball up the floor," Chism said. "I stayed in the game and I stayed inside in the post (except for) I hit one transition 3 that was real nice."

South Carolina's big men tried to stay between Chism and the basket, a strategy which backfired big-time. He repeatedly beat them with power and/or nifty moves for layups.

"They play behind the post," Chism said, "and that's what happens when you play behind the post. I did a great job of filling the inside and scoring."

Head coach Bruce Pearl, who has been preaching the importance of getting Chism more touches on the inside, was encouraged to see that his words finally have sunk in.

"Our team did a good job of recognizing him and finding him," the coach said. "And he obviously took full advantage."

Not initially, though. Tennessee came out jacking up ill-advised shots, much as it did in Thursday night's game at LSU. As a result, Chism scored just two of the Vols' first 16 points.

"I thought we were impatient early," Pearl said. "We weren't getting him the ball at all."

Once the Vols decided to feed the Big Dog, however, he scored 9 of their final 14 points of the first half, bumping the lead to 30-16 by the break.

"Wayne's a special player," Pearl said. "He's one of the best players in our league, which is saying a lot because our league has a lot of great players.... He's a very difficult matchup and South Carolina did not have answer for him."

Conversely, Tennessee had an answer for Gamecock standout Devan Downey. A swarming Vol defense limited Downey to 5-of-20 shooting. He finished with 26 points but half of those came from the foul line (where he was 13 of 14) and 15 of the 26 came AFTER Tennessee built the lead to 25 points (49-24) seven minutes into the second half.

Coming off a hideous performance in Thursday's 59-54 win at LSU, the Vols were light-years better on Saturday. They committed just one first-half turnover and allowed just one first-half offensive rebound en route to the 14-point intermission lead. Tennessee then put the game away by outscoring the visitors 19-8 to open the second half.

Maze and Scotty Hopson chipped in 11 points each for the Vols, now 18-4 overall and 6-2 in SEC play. Hall contributed 7 points and a team-high 11 rebounds in just 18 minutes off the bench.

Downey was just about the whole show for Carolina, now 13-9 and 4-4. Brandis Raley-Ross chipped in 12 points and Sam Muldrow contributed 16 rebounds.

The Vols dominated statistically, outshooting SC 45.8 to 27.6 percent from the field and 35.3 to 25.0 percent from 3. Tennessee recorded 10 more assists (16 to 6) and seven more rebounds (44 to 37) but committed five fewer turnovers (6 vs. 11). The Vols killed the Cocks inside, outscoring them 40-14 on points in the paint.

"We played a lot better," Pearl conceded. "We talked about the fact that, if we're going to continue to win, we have to play better."

The Vols certainly did that ... especially once they got out of the way and let the Big Dog eat.

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