COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)—Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl was happy with every aspect of his eighth-ranked Volunteers win over South Carolina.
JaJuan Smith scored 15 points to lead a balanced offense in the Vols’ 80-56 victory Saturday night.
They held the Gamecocks’ 3-point shooters in check, played suffocating defense and even had the rare achievement of outrebounding an opponent.
“We’re good, we’re healthy,” Pearl said after his team started 14-1 for the first time in seven seasons. “I like the way it’s coming together.”
The Vols (14-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) jumped out to an 11-0 lead and never trailed.
While the Gamecocks (8-8, 0-2) were able to hang around in the first half, Tennessee blitzed out of the locker room with a 23-5 run to build its lead to 66-40 with 11 minutes left and send the crowd home early.
“I’ve never heard it that quiet in the second half of a road game,” said Wayne Chism who scored 13 points despite foul trouble that held him to just 14 minutes.
Devan Downey led all scorers with 24 and Dominique Archie added 11 as South Carolina lost its third game in a row and kept coach Dave Odom looking for answers.
“I never dreamt we would come out of our locker room so flat,” Odom said.
Before the game, Pearl said he emphasized stopping the Gamecocks’ 3-point shooting. South Carolina came into the game shooting 41.1 percent on 3-pointers, but made just 23.8 percent (5-of-21) shots behind the arc Saturday night.
He wanted his team to play tough defense, and they forced 17 turnovers, slightly under their second-in-the-nation average of 21.4 turnovers.
And Pearl wanted them to dominate inside. The Vols scored 34 points in the paint and outrebounded South Carolina 43-31.
“You have to like their energy,” Pearl said.
Pearl told his team their first SEC goal was to avenge two of last year’s losses and beat Mississippi and the Gamecocks. With that accomplished, he said he wants his team to keep the pressure up when the Vols host No. 13 Vanderbilt on Thursday.
The 24-point margin of victory was the biggest for the Vols in 22 games in Columbia and only the second time they have beaten South Carolina on the road since the Gamecocks opened their new arena in 2002.
“This will be the exception and not the rule,” Pearl said of the easy win.
Tennessee’s push to put the game away actually started at the end of the first half. The Gamecocks had fought back to trail by just five when Chris Lofton buried a 3 with 28 seconds left in the half to put the Vols ahead 43-35 at the break.
South Carolina hit two free throws to open the second half, then Chism hit a layup to start Tennessee’s run. The Vols would score on six of their next seven possessions to take a 57-38 lead with 15 minutes to go as it turned into the kind of rout Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt—who watched the game as her team takes on South Carolina on Sunday—usually gives SEC opponents.
It was another frustrating loss for the Gamecocks, who showed little of the offensive zip that kept them close for much of in the game against Vanderbilt.
And a few of the fans seemed to take their anger out on Odom. There were some boos from the student section as the coach was introduced before the game and a few fans even tried to start a “Fire Odom” chant as the clock wound down.
The players seem as confused about how to get back on track, but they leave little doubt they support their coach.
“I don’t know what we need,” Downey said. “But coach Odom is a good coach, so I know he will come up with something.”