USC was down just four points at the half to 22nd ranked Tennessee, but the Vols lit up the Gamecocks in the second half with deadly three-point shooting and bolted away to a 81-57 win Saturday afternoon at the Colonial Life Arena. To be more precise, guard Zakai Zeigler lit up the Gamecocks with 18 second half points including four three-pointers.
After a three game winning streak, the Gamecocks have lost their last two and are 13-9 overall and 4-6 in SEC play. And they have fifth ranked Kentucky coming to Columbia on Tuesday night. The win was the Vols’s 8th in the last nine meetings with the Gamecocks and for their coach Rick Barnes, who also coached at Clemson, he is now 13-5 against the Gamecocks.
USC played hard and well enough in the first half to keep in close with a Tennessee team that had beaten them by 20 in Knoxville last month. They trailed only 33-29 at the break. But sloppy ball-handling and the inability to close down on the Vols’ outside shooters turned the game against them in the second half.
The breakdown started with 16:23 left. AJ Wilson made a layup to pull USC to within a point at 38-37. The Vols then scored the next ten points as the Gamecocks missed three shots and turned it over twice. In fact, they finished the game making just four of their last 18 field goal attempts. On the other hand, the Vols made 13 of their last 25 shots with seven threes during that stretch. They finished with 14 for the game, the most three-pointers allowed by the Gamecocks this season.
Porter-Gaud product Josiah-Jordan James scored 15 first half points and finished with a game high 20. Zeigler scored all of his 18 points in the second half. Erik Stevenson and Devin Carter led the Gamecocks with13 points each.
The Gamecocks finished with a 31% shooting night, 13 turnovers that turned into 17 points and were beaten 18-2 in second chance points. They got very little from their bigs. AJ Wilson, Tre-Vaughn Minott and Wildens Leveque combined for 12 points and nine rebounds. Trequan Woodley and Josh Gray were not available for the game. Woodley just returned from the birth of his daughter and Gray has a broken wrist suffered in the Mississippi State game.