Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl was pleased with how his team defended one of the SEC’s top scorers in its previous game.
In their attempt to earn a third straight victory Saturday at home, the 14th-ranked Volunteers might need an even better performance against red-hot South Carolina guard Devan Downey.
Tennessee’s efforts in containing LSU’s Tasmin Mitchell on Thursday night paid off in a 59-54 victory, its second straight following back-to-back losses.
The Vols (17-4, 5-2) held the SEC’s second-leading scorer to 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting, and that helped them earn the win despite a difficult night at the other end of the floor. Tennessee shot 40.0 percent and Wayne Chism was the only player in double figures with 20 points.
“We did a good job on Tasmin. We wanted to limit his touches,” Pearl said. “That’s a concern with South Carolina’s Devan Downey coming up Saturday.”
Downey, the conference’s top scorer, is averaging a career-best 22.9 points, but he’s made an even bigger mark since SEC play began.
The senior has averaged 31.6 points in those seven contests and registered at least 30 in three straight games. That run includes a 68-62 upset of then-No. 1 Kentucky on Jan. 26, and he followed by leading the Gamecocks (13-8, 4-3) to a 78-77 win against visiting Georgia last Saturday.
Downey scored 33 points and hit the tiebreaking shot with 50 seconds left.
“To see a guy who’s the guy that has to be stopped as options one, two and three and still gets 30 points at this level is pretty special,” coach Darrin Horn said.
The Vols have kept Downey relatively quiet in five straight wins over South Carolina. He hasn’t scored more than 26 points and has been held to less than 20 in three of those matchups, including both meetings last season.
Downey missed 20 of 35 shots while averaging 17.5 points against Tennessee in 2008-09, but the Vols will be without their top scorer in each of those games. Tyler Smith, who averaged 21.0 points against South Carolina last season, was dismissed from the team Jan. 8 after a New Year’s Day arrest for misdemeanor weapons and drug charges.
Without Smith, Tennessee will try to earn its eighth straight home win over the Gamecocks, and getting that victory could prove crucial to the Vols’ SEC title hopes. They trail Kentucky and No. 18 Vanderbilt by one game in the East Division and will face both teams on the road next week.
This matchup against the Gamecocks is one of just two home games over the next three weeks. After traveling to Lexington, the Vols return home to face Georgia on Feb. 17 then head out to South Carolina and Florida.
Tennessee is 31-23 against the Gamecocks and has won 11 of 12 at home since the beginning of the 1997-98 season. South Carolina’s only win at Thompson-Boling Arena in that span was 94-60 on Jan. 23, 2002.