COLUMBIA, S.C. (THE BIG SPUR) - From the opening tip to the final seconds, the rematch matchup between South Carolina and Tennessee was almost identical as the first meeting this season.
Only the end result was different as the Gamecocks (16-9, 8-4) secured a 63-61 win over the Volunteers.
Tennessee won a 56-55 rock fight up in Knoxville on Jan. 11. It was another backyard brawl on Saturday as the two teams missed 24 free throws and 19 three-pointers and wracked up 52 personal fouls.
Down 58-52 with 3:40 left to play, the Gamecocks locked in on defense and executed at critical areas on the offensive end.
Carolina then leaned on its senior, Maik Kotsar, to go to the free throw line and come through in the clutch.
Below is a two-MVP, four-quote, seven-game notes breakdown, recapping the Gamecocks’ avenging win over the Volunteers.
MAIK KOTSAR – For most of the 38 minutes played, the senior forward was the lone reliable big man on the team. While he had to lock in defensively with teammates in foul trouble, Kotsar was aggressive to the rim to start and both of his trips to the free throw line in the final minute were a result of getting out in the open court. He finished with 13 points, was 7-of-8 from the free throw line, grabbed eight rebounds and had two assists.
JOHN FULKERSON – The Volunteers reliant big man had a career night with 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting. He finished 9-of-14 from the free throw line, at one point in the second half just four free throw attempts short of the entire Gamecocks team. Fulkerson scored more than a third of his team’s points and grabbed nine rebounds, but head coach Rick Barnes noted his veteran was the culprit of mistakes with six turnovers and multiple charge calls.
“We were really bad in practice yesterday. I told the players (after the game), ‘Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you get rewarded not for what you did yesterday, but because of who you are becoming. If you take it for granted then you’re going to get punished next time.’ We have to figure out a way to be a lot better, not with passing or cutting. It’s our mindset, our body language and the words that come out of our mouth in a practice. We had too much nonsense in practice yesterday, but who we’ve worked to become the last two months is what saved us today. Our lack of preparation is what exposed us early in the game.” – South Carolina head coach Frank Martin
“Missing free throws is a deflating play. There are some guys that can’t do certain things, but if they get to the line and make free throws it uplifts people. When you get to the line and all you do is miss free throws it deflates guys. Earlier in the year we lost games because that deflated us. Somehow, someway it didn’t deflate us today. You’ve heard me say this before. Kotsar, last year, would avoid getting fouled because he did not want to shoot a free throw. For him to get to the line and go front end one-and-one to give us a one-point lead and then come back and get fouled again and go boom boom to put us up three, I got into college basketball because that’s what I enjoy, watching young people grow and become better. Maik and Fulkerson are the reasons I love college basketball.” – Martin on free throws
“I wasn’t thinking much. I just knew I had to make them. That’s about it. I’ve tried to take my time (with free throws this year) and not to rush it.” – Kotsar on his free throws at the end of the game
“A hard fought game, as you would expect. They finished it and we didn’t. In those situations you can’t turn the ball over and have to get shots up. We didn’t do that. The last out of bounds play we knew they were going to foul. We had a play and didn’t execute. We have a good basketball team. They’re a good basketball team. I think we’ve both improved immensely since we met in Knoxville. It’s a tough los because we had the lead and needed to make one offensive play. We didn’t do it and they did.” – Barnes on Vols’ finish
1. South Carolina started the game 1-of-6 from the free throw line. At the 3:59 mark of the second half the team’s total was 13-of-26. The tide turned in the final minutes as freshman guard Trae Hannibal made two in one trip and then Kotsar went 4-for-4 in the biggest moments of the game. They finished 19-of-32 with the clock stopped.
2. While Kotsar’s four free throws got back the lead and then extended it, it was Lawson’s big three-pointer at the 1:38 mark that electrified the 15,000-plus crowd at Colonial Life Arena. Down by a point in the final minute with only six points scored at that point, Lawson rose up for arguably his biggest made shot of the season. He finished with nine points on 3-of-8 shooting in 33 minutes. In a game with so many foul calls, Lawson managed to not get whistled once.
3. Saturday’s meeting was between the first and third best field goal percentage defenses in the conference. Carolina leads the SEC (38.1 percent) with Tennessee not far behind (39.1 percent). The Volunteers ended up shooting 43 percent while the Gamecocks shot 40 percent.
4. Carolina sophomore forward Keyshawn Bryant was almost nonexistent in the first half with zero points and three personal fouls in 11 first half minutes. With those three fouls he had to wait some in the second half to check in. In his first offensive touch of the second half he drove, fumbled the ball and turned it over. After getting hooked out by Martin, he quickly came back in to play some lockdown defense on Tennessee point guard Santiago Vescovi and drew a big charge on Fulkerson. Bryant finished with two points in 19 minutes played. His teammates cited postgame that he made plays that don’t show up in the box score that still helped the team win.
5. Freshman forward Jalyn McCreary scored a team high eight points in the first half, 15 minutes played off the bench. He was 4-of-5 from the field. Even though teammates Alanzo Frink and Wildens Leveque were quickly in foul trouble with four each, McCreary did not appear in the second half. Martin said postgame his freshman forward suffered a head injury that did not allow him to return to action. Frink and Leveque ended up with eight combined fouls in 13 minutes played and walk-on Nathan Nelson had to play nine minutes.
6. In their first meeting of the season, each team had 19 turnovers. On Saturday the Gamecocks forced 20 turnovers on the Volunteers while they themselves had 14 (just six in the second half). Carolina scored 22 points off of those Tennessee turnovers.
7. UP NEXT: South Carolina goes back on the road on Wednesday (Feb. 19) to face Mississippi State, the first of two matchups on the schedule. The first meeting will be a 9 p.m. tip in Starkville, televised on the SEC Network. They’ll square off again in Columbia on March 3.
The Gamecocks entered Saturday tied with Florida for fourth place in the league. Both teams won on Saturday so that tie for fourth stands heading into week seven play. The Gators hold the tiebreaker.