CHARLESTON, S.C. — Tennessee zoned out when the College of Charleston changed defenses Wednesday night.
The Cougars (8-1) switched from a man-to-man to a zone defense in the second half, and the results were startlingly effective, as Charleston rallied for a 71-65 victory to win its 14th straight at TD Arena.
The Vols (3-6) lost for the fourth consecutive time and the sixth in seven games.
Former Greeneville High School standout and Cougars senior forward Antwaine Wiggins matched his career high with 24 points and pulled down a team-high eight rebounds.
Jordan McRae led the Vols with 19 points, and forward Dwight Miller scored 13 off the bench, all in the first half.
UT was up by as many as 13 points in the first half en route to a 37-33 lead at halftime.
“That was a dogfight, they took it to us early, and I was glad we were only down four at the half,’’ College of Charleston coach Bobby Cremins said. “We were in trouble, deep trouble. Antwaine kept us in it.’’
The 6-foot-7 Wiggins appeared unstoppable at times during a 13-0 run that turned the game in Charleston’s favor.
A Wiggins’ steal and transition basket at the 13:17 mark of the second half tied game 47-47, and Wiggins followed that with another transition bucket to give Charleston a 49-47 advantage with 12:50 left, the Cougars’ first lead since going up 10-9 at the 14:50 mark of the first half.
Charleston’s run extended to 13-0 on a pair of Andrew Lawrence free throws at the 9:28 mark that gave the Cougars a 56-47 lead. Lawrence finished with 14 points and four assists.
UT finally scored at the 8:45 mark on a Trae Golden steal and dunk that cut the Cougars’ lead to 56-49. It was the Vols’ first points since Jeronne Maymon, who had nine points and eight rebounds, scored with 14 minutes left.
“I didn’t think we were cutting like we needed to against the zone; we were hesitant on the perimeter,’’ UT coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I thought the guys had energy and competed. It’s getting those stops and executing in the second half.
“We just got stagnant. Those guys like to shoot threes, and that’s a great time to shoot threes against the zone.’’
The Vols finished 9-of-29 (31 percent) shooting beyond the 3-point arc, and turned the ball over 16 times to the Cougars’ 10.
Charleston used a 7-0 run after Golden’s basket to take its largest lead of the game at 63-49 on Matt Sundberg’s 3-pointer with 5:55 left.
McRae hit three straight 3-point attempts down the stretch, his final one finding its mark with 58.9 seconds left and cutting the Cougars’ lead to 68-65.
“I thought Jordan did a good job being aggressive, assertive and being in attack mode,’’ Martin said. “The guys did a good job finding him.’’
It proved to be too little, too late, as Charleston identified McRae in the final minute and UT failed to score on its final three possessions.
The Charleston fans stormed the floor on the final horn.
“It’s extremely frustrating,’’ Miller said. “After the game we got in the locker room and said whatever it takes, we have to look within ourselves.
“We didn’t expect to be here, but it’s just a speed bump in the road. We can’t afford to let this become a mountain.’’
UT returns to action at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in Thompson-Boling Arena against UNC Asheville (5-4).