Hoops Preview: #11 Tennessee vs. South Carolina

Hoops Preview: #11 Tennessee vs. South Carolina

Eleventh-ranked Tennessee returns to Thompson-Boling Arena for one final weekend home game this season, taking on South Carolina at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Fans can catch Saturday’s game on SEC Network and online or on any mobile device through WatchESPN. WatchESPN can be accessed through the ESPN App, or online at espn.com/watch. Kevin Fitzgerald (play-by-play) and Dane Bradshaw (analyst) will have the call.
Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Bob Kesling and Bert Bertelkamp describing the action.
Tennessee (20-8, 9-6 SEC) is coming off a narrow defeat in a road top-25 matchup at No. 25 Texas A&M on Tuesday, 68-63. Senior guard Santiago Vescovi had an all-around standout performance for the shorthanded Vols, coming up just short of a triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, as well as grabbing three steals.
Saturday marks Tennessee’s second matchup of the season against South Carolina after the Vols claimed an 85-42 win in Columbia on Jan. 7. Dating to the 2017-18 season, Tennessee has won nine of the last 10 games in the series.
Up next, Tennessee is back inside Thompson-Boling Arena for the final time this season, taking on Arkansas on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
• Tennessee leads its all-time series with South Carolina, 51-28, dating to 1927.
• The Vols own a 30-9 advantage when the series is contested in Knoxville, with Tennessee winning each of the last five meetings at Thompson-Boling Arena.
• UT has won nine of the last 10 meetings overall.
• A pair of Vols hail from the state of South Carolina, as freshman Julian Phillips grew up in Blythewood and senior Josiah-Jordan James is from Charleston. Both players are currently battling injuries.
• Rick Barnes spent four years in The Palmetto State as the head coach at Clemson from 1994-98. He was a perfect 4-0 against the Gamecocks during that tenure.
• First-year Gamecocks head coach Lamont Paris spent the previous five seasons employed by the UT System, leading the program at UT Chattanooga.
• The Vols remain at No. 3 in the NCAA’s NET ratings after holding steady at No. 2 from Jan. 3 through Feb. 8. Tennessee has five Q1 wins.
• Tennessee and Baylor are the only teams in the country that own at least three wins over teams currently ranked in the top 10 of the NET ratings.
• Tennessee’s 13.54 offensive rebounds per game lead the SEC and rank sixth among all Division I teams.
• During SEC play, Tennessee leads the league in scoring defense (59.7 ppg), assists per game (15.9) and assist/turnover ratio (1.4).
• Zakai Zeigler’s 149 total assists lead the SEC and rank third nationally among underclassmen. He is on pace to log 164 assists by the end of the regular season.
• The Vols have been shorthanded for the last two weeks, as starters Josiah-Jordan James (ankle) and Julian Phillips (hip) battle injuries.
• A senior and preseason All-SEC selection, James has been inactive for 12 games this season, including four UT losses.
• For the 13th straight week, the Volunteers own the best adjusted defensive efficiency in the country per KenPom, allowing only 86.2 points per 100 possessions.
• Tennessee owns Division I’s best field-goal percentage defense (.359) and 3-point defense (.250) along with the nation’s third-best scoring defense (57.1 ppg).
• 11 times this season, the Vols have held their opponents to 50 points or less. No other Division I team has more than 10 such performances.
• Only four teams have reached the 70-point mark against these Vols.
• Only eight opposing players have scored 20 or more points against the Vols this season.
• In SEC home games, Tennessee forces 14.8 turnovers per game and owns a +4.5 turnover margin. SEC teams are shooting .361 from the field and .293 from 3-point range this season at Thompson-Boling Arena.
• South Carolina (10-18, 3-12 SEC) is coming off a 78-76 home overtime loss to No. 2 Alabama on Wednesday, which other than the loss at Tennessee on Feb. 15, marked the closest that the Tide have come to defeat in SEC play.
• Prior to the loss to Alabama, the Gamecocks had won two of their last three games—both on the road, at Ole Miss and LSU. South Carolina is 4-6 overall in road games this season.
• Currently ranked No. 230 in the NET, South Carolina is 1-7 in Quadrant 1 games, with the lone win coming at Kentucky on Jan. 10.
• Lamont Paris is in his first season at the helm of the South Carolina program after serving as Chattanooga’s head coach for five years (2017- 22) and an assistant at Wisconsin for seven seasons (2010-17).
• Highly-touted freshman forward Gregory “GG” Jackson II leads the Gamecocks in scoring (15.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.2 rpg). Jackson was the consensus No. 1 player in the nation in the Class of 2023 before reclassifying in late July to become a part of the Class of 2022.
• Jackson II is currently one of three freshmen in the country averaging at least 15.0 ppg and 6.0 rpg. Jackson’s 15.7 points per game average is sixth nationally amongst freshmen.
• Sophomore guard Meechie Johnson, an Ohio State transfer, is the Gamecocks’ second-leading scorer at 12.2 ppg and is averaging 17.5 ppg over the last four games. Johnson ranks 10th in the SEC with 14.4 ppg during conference play.
• Johnson also ranks third in the SEC in 3-point percentage (.351) during conference play and second in makes per game (2.7).
• No. 8 Tennessee dominated on both ends of the floor and led from start to finish, dismantling South Carolina on the road on Jan. 7, 85-42.
• The Vols’ 43-point margin of victory marked the third-largest margin of victory in a road game in program history and largest since Feb. 8, 1965. It’s also tied for the fourth-largest win over an SEC team in program history.
• Olivier Nkamhoua led the Vols in scoring and rebounding and tallied his third career double-double, posting a 21-point, 10-rebound effort. Nkamhoua’s 21 points came by way of a 10-for-10 shooting performance from the field, which tied a Tennessee program record for field goal makes without a miss in a single game.
• Fellow big man Jonas Aidoo also showed out on the offensive end for the Vols, scoring a career-high 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting.
•  Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi were the third and fourth Vols in double figures, each tallying 12 points and connecting on a pair of 3-pointers. As a team, Tennessee shot 51 percent—even while missing 14 of its final 18 shots when the game was decided.
• Defensively, Tennessee forced 18 South Carolina turnovers, while the Gamecocks only made 12 total field goals (tying a UT Barnes-era record for fewest field goals allowed).
• South Carolina leading scorer GG Jackson II was held scoreless—shooting 0-for-8 from the field.
•  The Vols led by as many as 45 points in the final minutes of the game.
• Over the last two weeks (four games), outside of starters Olivier Nkamhoua and Jonas Aidoo, true freshman Tobe Awaka is logging the most minutes among the team’s bench bigs. Awaka has averaged 17.5 minutes over that span.
• As injuries have limited Tennessee’s depth, true freshman guard B.J. Edwards has seen meaningful minutes in recent games vs. Missouri, at Kentucky and at Texas A&M.
• During that same four-game span, the Vols are shooting an uncharacteristic .640 from the free-throw line (55 of 86). While UT has shot 86 free throws, its opponents have shot 106 and made 79.
• With starters Josiah-Jordan James (ankle) and Julian Phillips (hip) sidelined due to injury, the Tennessee rotation has been without important, difference-making production.
• When active, James and Phillips combine to account for 18.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
• James is the team’s leading overall rebounder (5.3 rpg), while Phillips is the squad’s second-leading offensive rebounder (1.9 orpg). James and Phillips also are the team’s fourth- and fifth-leading scorers, respectively.
• Over the last five games Santiago Vescovi, is averaging 15.2 ppg and 5.2 rpg on 18-for-41 (.439) shooting from 3-point range.
• During league play, Vescovi ranks second in the SEC in 3-point percentage (.394) and third in 3-point makes per game (2.6).
• While battling illness at No. 25 Texas A&M Tuesday, he recorded his first career double-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, while also grabbing three steals.
• With that effort, he became the first Vol to record 10+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ assists in a game since current Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams did so in UT’s upset win over top-ranked Gonzaga on Dec. 9, 2018.

-UT Athletics

Vols G Tyreke Key / Credit: UT Athletics

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