ATLANTA — As the game turned: Although the Volunteers had maintained a double-digit lead for the majority of the second half, the Gamecocks trimmed a once-18 point deficit down to 12 with 8:34 remaining in the game.
However, a Jerronne Maymon personal 5-0 run immediately ensued as the senior forward successfully converted an old fashioned three-point play and followed it up with another layup just 42 seconds later.
From there, the Gamecocks made just three shots from the field, and Tennessee’s lead never dipped below 15 in the final seven minutes, ensuring the Vols would cruise into the SEC tournament semifinals with a convincing 59-44 win.
Hot topic: In the Vols’ last four the games coming in — all blowout wins by at least 27 points —, Antonio Barton had sparked the UT offense with electric shooting performances and error-free point guard play.
During that stretch, the Memphis transfer totaled 51 points on 17-of-32 (53 percent) from the field and 13-of-22 (59 percent) from deep, with only three turnovers.
Barton, however, didn’t see that immense productivity spill over into Friday’s quarterfinal matchup as he coughed up the ball four times and failed to connect from the field — his only point of the afternoon coming from the charity stripe.
His recent success, though, still resonated in Friday's win as South Carolina head coach Frank Martin elected to single-team Jarnell Stokes, thus placing a heavy emphasis on shooters Barton and senior Jordan McRae.
“You start committing to Jarnell Stokes too much,” Frank Martin said, “and then their baskets count three, not two.”
The latter, however, was more of the norm on Friday as Stokes went for 22 points — his highest total since the Vols’ 76-59 win over Alabama on Feb. 1.
“South Carolina double teamed me the first time we played them,” Stokes said, “but this game they didn't, and Jordan (McRae) and Antonio (Barton) and Josh (Richardson), those guys played a big role in that.”
Spotlight: For the second time in as many matchups this season, the UT defense locked down the Gamecock attack from the moment the ball was tipped, In the regular season contest between the two former SEC Eastern Division foes, the Vols held South Carolina scoreless until the 15:01 mark of the opening period.
And the rematch Friday afternoon was a mirror image.
The Gamecocks began the quarterfinal game a dismal 0-of-8 shooting and missed their first six 3-pointers, failing to connect from the field until more than five minutes of game clock had already ticked off.
“We don’t have many breakdowns on the defensive end,” Stokes said, “especially in the first five minutes of games. We’re able to just get a big lead at the beginning of the game.”
As the opening period wore on, the Gamecocks’ early shooting woes weren’t corrected in either matchup against the Vols. In the two first halves combined, South Carolina shot 15-of-56 (27 percent) from the field & 5-of-17 (29 percent) from downtown.
“It was exciting to see those guys get out the gates the way they did and just really defend,” UT head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Our guys have done it the last five games, and it's fun to watch.”
The other guys: In his final game as a Gamecock, senior guard Brenton Williams put up a team-high nine points on 3-of-13 shooting.
Outside the box score: The win over South Carolina was the second time in last four games the Vols have held an opponent without a double-digit scorer — the other being UT's victory over Vanderbilt on March 1.
Say something: Frank Martin on his team’s performance considering the Vols won by 19 when the two played in Knoxville: “At the same time I'm proud of my guys. We went into their building a month ago, whatever it was, and they treated us like a redheaded stepchild. And today we fought. Today we didn't back down.”
By the numbers:
32: UT outscored the Gamecocks 32-18 in the paint.
25: The Vols attempted 25 free throws, compared to South Carolina’s 10.
2: The Gamecocks had just two fast break points in the second half.
Up next: The Vols will face Florida in the semifinals of the SEC tournament tomorrow afternoon. Tipoff is slated for 1 p.m. and will be televised on ABC.