As the game turned: With 11:55 to go in the first half, junior guard Josh Richardson hit a pull-up jumper to extend the Tennessee lead to 23 and seemingly put the dagger in the Gamecocks' chest.

Instead of going quietly into the night, South Carolina made its run.

Over the next 2:46, the Gamecocks would go on a 10-0 run, whittling the UT lead down to 13 points.

With no choice, head coach Cuonzo Martin called his starters back in to duty and dashed any chance of a South Carolina comeback as the Vols pushed their lead back up to 20 less than two minutes later.

"Probably at the six or seven-minute mark, that unit out there wasn't as assertive as we needed them to be, so we put the starters back in," Martin said. "Overall (though), a good effort for us."

Hot topic: It's become somewhat like clockwork to see Tennessee lose a game only to get back up and brush the dust off.

The Vols have only lost consecutive games once this season – at Wichita State on Dec. 14 and then at home against NC State on Dec. 18 – and that fact didn't change on Saturday.

Following a disheartening loss to Vanderbilt just days before (Feb. 5), UT came out with intensity and played one of its best games of the season against the Gamecocks, shooting more than 50 percent while holding USC to 35.7 percent.

"I thought they were focused when they lost the game," Martin said after Wednesday's loss. "You just go into a game, you game plan, you get ready, but what happens in most cases is when you lose games, you don't play well. I've never seen, for the most part, teams play perfect and lose games. You lose because the other team played better. They did some things to beat you.

"But, yeah, we've done a solid job of bouncing back after a loss, especially tough losses."

Spotlight: Jordan McRae has been the catalyst for the Vols all season, especially following a loss.

The junior guard is averaging 21.1 points per game for the Vols in contests that follow defeats, including his game-high 24 points on Saturday.

McRae, however, said he doesn't feel like it's all because of him whenever the Vols are able to get back on track.

"I always feel like when we are in need of something, whether it be a big defensive stop or a big rebound, myself, Jarnell (Stokes) and Jeronne (Maymon) I feel like are the guys that have to go out there; Josh, too. So we just have a whole lot of guys who can go out there and step up."

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin wasn't surprised to see McRae take over after what he saw in Columbia, S.C., last season.

"That's what he does," Martin said. "Last year, we had a chance to win because we were able to guard him, we didn't lose him, so he never got any looks, then when he got one at the end of the game, he made it.

"That three he made last year broke our backs. ... Early in the game, we were not good enough defensively and gave him open looks. When good players see the ball go in the basket, that's when you have a problem."

The other guys: Freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell was the only player to score in double digits for the Gamecocks, pouring in 15 points.

He also scored the team's first nine points of the game.

Outside the box score: Former Tennessee football player and head coach Johnny Majors made an appearance on the Kiss Cam late in the first half.

Say something: Jordan McRae when asked about Chris Walker of Florida, who made his season debut Feb. 4 against Missouri due to eligibility issues: "He dunks. I haven't seen enough of him. He played seven minutes and got two dunks. We know he can dunk."

By the numbers

10: The Vols had a season-high 10 steals in the game.

3: Tennessee held South Carolina to three 3-pointers in the game. The Gamecocks came into the contest as the No.1 3-point shooting team in the SEC.

23: Tennessee is 23-0 when it shoots better than 50 percent in the Cuonzo Martin era. The Vols shot 52.8 percent against the Gamecocks.

Up next: The Vols will take on the No. 3 Florida Gators inside Thompson-Boling Arena at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.


Vols cruise easily over South Carolina, 72-53