Now is a good time for No. 8 Tennessee to be hitting another gear. The Volunteers suggest they are just getting in a groove, even after a successful first couple of months of the season.
They will try to extend the solid beginning to their Southeastern Conference schedule when they take on South Carolina on Saturday in Columbia, S.C.
Tennessee (12-2, 2-0) has outscored opponents by an average of 21.5 points per game.
South Carolina (7-7, 0-1) could use a breakthrough result under first-year coach Lamont Paris.
The Volunteers might be showing signs of clicking on offense at a higher level. They’ve scored more than 85 points in two of their past three games.
“It is really fun being out there and everybody hitting shots,” Tennessee guard Zakai Zeigler said. “We haven’t been shooting the ball the best. Now that shots are falling and we’re starting to feel ourselves a little bit, I feel like we’re going to carry that on for sure.”
The Volunteers cruised past Mississippi State 87-53 on Tuesday night for their third consecutive victory.
“The biggest thing, every game is a different game,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We’ve had to learn how to play against teams that switch (defensively).”
While not looking overpowering on offense at times without a clear go-to player, the Volunteers have demonstrated offensive balance. Five players average at least 9.8 points per game.
“Guys can impact a game, whether they’re scoring or not, and can find a way to help you win,” Barnes said.
Barnes said Tennessee’s perimeter players mostly play so hard defensively that making shots can be challenging late in some games. He said that shooting shouldn’t be a drawback for the team.
“I do think we have guys who can shoot the ball,” Barnes said.
Tennessee’s Santiago Vescovi is 12 of 20 from 3-point range across the past three games. His average of 12.8 points per game is tops on the team.
The Gamecocks lost 84-79 in overtime at Vanderbilt on Tuesday and now head into their SEC home opener. Paris is seeking his first victory in conference play.
South Carolina has been involved in eight games decided by 10 points or less, going 5-3 in those, so little has come easily for the Gamecocks.
“Just competitive nature all the way around on both sides of the ball,” Paris said. “I think that normally shows itself defensively more so than anything.”
GG Jackson is the headliner for the Gamecocks, averaging a team-high 16.9 points a game, but Chico Carter Jr. posted a team-best 24 points against Vanderbilt.
While Tennessee is listed among the top teams in the country, South Carolina was selected by the SEC media to finish last in the conference.
“I’ve been picked last just in general,” Paris said. “Oftentimes, I thrive on that. I’m motivated by that. I use that to motivate myself, certainly. I will impart that on our guys to take it personal.”
This will be Tennessee’s third true road game; the Vols fell 75-70 at nationally ranked Arizona and won 63-59 at Ole Miss.
–Field Level Media