GREENVILLE, S.C. – Tennessee fell to No. 1/1 South Carolina, 74-58, in a hard-fought battle in the SEC Championship game on Sunday afternoon at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Senior Jordan Horston was the high scorer for Tennessee (23-11, 13-3 SEC) with 19 points and nine rebounds. Fellow senior Rickea Jackson was close behind with 17 points, and sophomore Jillian Hollingshead also had another solid showing with nine points.
South Carolina (32-0, 16-0 SEC) was led by Zia Cooke who turned in 24 points, while two-time SEC Player of the Year Aliyah Boston posted 18 and Kamilla Cardoso had 13.
Boston knocked down buckets on USC’s first two possessions to give UT a four-point lead early, but Horston responded with a layup to cut it back to two a minute and a half into play as the game became a back-and-forth affair. The Lady Vols hung within a basket through the duration of the first, primarily off the efforts of Horston and Jackson, who combined for 13 of UT’s 19 first-quarter points. The Gamecocks nearly took a four-point lead into the second, but Horston hit a long-range two falling away at the buzzer to send the game into the second with UT trailing 21-19.
Jackson tied it up at 21-all with a jumper 17 seconds into the second period, but South Carolina bounced back with 12 unanswered points to forge a 33-21 lead with 5:23 to go in the half. Jordan Walker ended the skid on Tennessee’s next possession, draining a 10-foot jumper as the shot clock wound down. Cooke hit a pair of free throws on the other end, but Horston responded by snagging her own rebound in the lane and getting the second-chance layup in the first of three straight buckets by the senior that pulled UT within six by the 1:35 mark at 35-29. Laeticia Amihere hit a layup on USC’s next play, but Sara Puckett scored the last field goal of the half to send the game into halftime with South Carolina on top 37-31.
Jackson trimmed USC’s lead down to four on Tennessee’s first possession of the second half and pulled UT within three off a trey 30 seconds later. South Carolina answered by holding UT without a field goal for 8:37 while stringing together a 16-4 run that had the Gamecocks on top 55-40 heading into the final minute of the third. Jackson broke to the basket on Tennessee’s last play of the quarter and converted on the layup to set the score at 55-42 at the end of three.
An old-fashioned three-point play by Hollingshead to start the fourth quarter pulled UT within 10, but USC strung together six straight points before a jumper by Horston cut the gap to 61-47 with 5:07 to go in the game. The teams swapped buckets over the next 90 seconds with Karoline Striplin cutting USC’s lead back to 14 once again off a 3-pointer, but Cooke countered with a trey of her own on the other end. USC went on to lead by as many as 19 before Hollingshead and Jackson combined for five points to whittle it down to 14 once more with 1:28 on the clock. South Carolina added the last basket with just over a minute to go for a final score of 74-58.
UP NEXT: The Lady Vols will return home to await the results of the NCAA Selection Show on 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 12. The show will be broadcast on ESPN.
ALL-TOURNAMENT HONORS: Jordan Horston and Rickea Jackson were both recognized as members of the SEC All-Tournament Team. In the SEC Tournament, Jackson led Tennessee in scoring, averaging 25.7 ppg. and 7.7 rpg. Horston, meanwhile, produced 19.0 ppg., 8.7 rpg. and 3.7 apg. It marks the first time UT has had two All-Tournament Team members since Cierra Burdick and Jordan Reynolds earned that recognition in 2015.