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February 8, 2014

Hoops: Tennessee thumps Gamecocks

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee scored the first 10 points of the game, and it only got worse from there.

While South Carolina couldn't hit the broad side of anything from the field, opening the game shooting 2-for-12, Tennessee raced out to a 16-2 lead and never looked back in a 72-53 whalloping of the Gamecocks.

The loss was USC's 13th straight to the Volunteers dating back to 2007 and the 11th straight in Knoxville dating to 2002.

"Just didn't have it today," Martin said. "We've got to play with a sense of discipline, toughness, and we just didn't have that coming out of the gate today.

"(Tennessee is) good, they play that way and we obviously paid the price with a game that we never really had a chance to win."

After digging an early hole the Gamecocks clawed back to within eight on nine-straight points from Sindarius Thornwell and four from Laimonas Chatkevicius to make the score 21-13, but from there the Vols used three 3-pointers from Jordan McRae, who had 20 points in the first half alone (he finished with 24), to key a 14-4 run that put the lead at 21. At halftime the lead was 23, and the Gamecocks got no closer than 13 the rest of the way as the final margin was 19. It was the 13th wire-to-wire win of the year for Tennessee.

With the Volunteers (15-8, 6-4) shooting lights out while opening the big lead - they shot 58 percent in the decisive first half - the pressure on the Gamecocks (8-15, 1-9) to hit shots to remain close meant bad shots, contested looks and overall inefficiency as USC shot 27.6 percent from the floor (8-of-29) in the first half, 35.7 percent for the game.

"I thought we ran good offense at times," Martin said. "But in the first half we were 8-for-29 from the field. It's hard to win when you shoot 27 percent. It's hard to win anywhere against anybody when you shoot 27 percent."

Thornwell led the Gamecocks in scoring with 15, though he only had two in the second half. Duane Notice was behind Thornwell with 9 points while Brent Williams, who was scoreless in the first half, added 8.

The story of the game for the Volunteers was McRae from outside. In a five-point loss at home last season, McRae was held to 7 points on 1-for-7 shooting. Saturday in Knoxville, the senior was 8-of-14, 6-of-8 from 3-point range.

"McRae was the guy we had to make sure we found, and w did an absolute horrendous job of that early in the game," Martin said. "He mad some hard ones toward the end of the first half where started guarding better, but when you give a good player easy looks, then you're in trouble. Because then the hard shots start going in, and we gave him too many easy looks early in the game."

"Last year we had a chance to win because we were able to guard him. We didn't lose him, so he never got any looks, and then we he did get one at the end of the game he made it, and that 3 he made last year broke our backs at home. That's what he does."

McRae's success extended USC's defense so that the Volunteers' bigs, 6-8, 260-pound Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, combined to score 27 points with 16 rebounds and eat the lunch of Gamecock forwards giving up about 50 pounds per man.

"The interior was a concern for us," Martin said. "You can do it on one play (guard their bigs), maybe two.

"It's hard. That's a big part of what we have to address with our program."

For South Carolina, it's back to the drawing board for a team that continues to struggle against bigger teams at home and on the road.

"We tried to do the right things, we just didn't have it in the gas tank today to come out and fight with the energy and discipline and toughness that we have to have to be good," Martin said. "We did some good things in the second half, but those first 10, 12 minutes of the game sunk us.

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