COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)—Tre Kelley scored 23 points and South Carolina broke a five-game losing streak—and won its 100th Southeastern Conference game since joining the league 15 years ago—with a 81-64 victory over Tennessee on Saturday.
The Gamecocks (13-12, 3-9 SEC) had been stuck on 99 conference victories since winning at Mississippi State, 66-63, on Jan. 27. And it looked like the wait would continue with Tennessee riding three straight wins, including the past two over ranked opponents in Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
But South Carolina gained control early, hitting eight of its season-high tying 13 3-pointers in the opening half, and holding the SEC’s top scorer, Chris Lofton, to 13 points.
The Vols (18-9, 6-6) cut an 11-point lead to 36-33 on Dane Bradshaw’s layup to start the second half. But South Carolina took off on a 21-5 run over the next seven minutes that put the game away.
Kelley started the surge with a 3-pointer while Bryce Sheldon and Brandis Raley-Ross also had long-range buckets. When Dwayne Day closed things with a 3 of his own, South Carolina lead 57-38 with 12:41 to go.
Last season, Tennessee rallied from 15-points down at the Colonial Center to defeat the Gamecocks.
Kelley, the Gamecocks’ defense and some bad timing by Tennessee made sure a similar collapse didn’t happen time.
Lofton, who came in atop the league with 20.7 points a game, finished 3-of-10 from the field and a dreadful 1-of-7 from behind the arc.
The Vols were also called for three technical fouls for complaining with officials, one each by freshmen Duke Crews and Wayne Chism and one on coach Bruce Pearl.
Sheldon had 16 points, including four 3-pointers.
Ramar Smith led Tennessee with 13 points.
The victory was also a welcome one for the home crowd, which has watched the Gamecocks go 2-5 at the Colonial Center the past two months, including lopsided losses to Kansas (70-54), Florida (84-50), Kentucky (87-49) and Georgia (73-54).
South Carolina started fast with six 3-pointers in the game’s first 13 minutes, the last a floater by Kelley with 7:16 remaining, to lead 28-17.
Then after the Vols used a 9-0 run to tighten things up, Sheldon hit his third 3-pointer of the half and Day his second to send the South Carolina into the break ahead 36-31.
Lofton was limited to 2-of-6 from the field, including missing all three of his long-range attempts, for the first 20 minutes.