COLUMBIA, S.C. — Tennessee made it 11 straight wins over South Carolina and held on to a share of fourth place in the SEC on Saturday night.
“We just knew we needed to win this game,’’ Vols junior forward Jeronne Maymon said. “We wanted to continue to have something to play for.’’
The Vols (16-13, 8-6) scored a 73-64 men’s basketball victory over the Gamecocks (10-18, 2-12) before a crowd of 7,959 at Colonial Life Arena that included hundreds of orange-clad UT fans.
Tennessee has matched last season’s SEC regular-season win total with games remaining at LSU (9 p.m. Tuesday) and at home against Vanderbilt (4 p.m. Saturday).
The Vols are tied with Alabama (19-9, 8-6) in the SEC standings. The fourth-place team receives a first-round bye in the SEC tournament in New Orleans, which runs March 8-11.
Trae Golden led UT with 21 points, his most in SEC play, and Jordan McRae matched his SEC high with 16 points while pulling down a career-high eight rebounds.
Maymon scored 14 to maintain his streak of scoring at least 12 points in every SEC game this season.
UT won for the sixth time in the past seven games, doing so in wire-to-wire fashion for the first time in SEC play.
“There was no doubt we were going to win this game,’’ McRae said. “But I don’t think it’s time to look at what we’ve accomplished, because there’s so much more we want to do this season.’’
The Vols enjoyed their best performance shooting on the road, hitting 24 of 46 (52.2 percent) from the floor, including 7-of-14 shooting from 3-point range.
It also was UT’s best defensive effort on the road, as South Carolina’s 32.4-percent shooting represented the worst by a home team against the Vols.
It was enough for UT coach Cuonzo Martin to overlook the Vols’ 21 turnovers, which ranked as their second most in a game (25 at Vanderbilt, Jan. 24).
“It’s one of the few games I’ve ever been around with 20-plus turnovers where I thought we played well,’’ Martin said. “We got out of the gate shooting the ball well (and) did a good job handling the press.’’
The Vols extended their 34-32 halftime lead by outscoring South Carolina 10-2 in the opening minutes of the second half, and they put the game away with another 10-2 run comprised of seven straight points from Jarnell Stokes and a Skylar McBee 3-pointer that made it 62-46 with 6:10 left.
South Carolina, led by Bruce Ellington’s 19 points and 17 from Malik Cooke, drew no closer than seven the rest of the game.
UT led by as many as 11 in the first half before the Gamecocks closed on a 9-3 run to cut UT’s lead down to two at intermission. The Vols fueled the South Carolina rally with four turnovers during the final three minutes of the opening half.
UT had used a 9-0 run capped by a Cameron Tatum follow basket to take a 20-9 lead at the 10:11 mark before sloppy play opened the door for South Carolina.
Tatum finished with only five points — which included his first made 3-pointer in and SEC road game this season — but the fifth-year senior posted a team-high nine rebounds and matched a career high with six assists.
“Cam always does what we’re lacking that night,’’ Golden said. “He’s a great all-around player and a typical senior leader in that he does so many more things that don’t necessarily show up in the box score.’’
South Carolina’s most recent victory against UT came on Feb. 17, 2007, winning 81-64 in Columbia.
The Vols played their fourth game without junior center Kenny Hall, who was suspended indefinitely prior to the Feb. 15 game against Arkansas for conduct detrimental to the team.
Martin has said he has yet to decide when or if Hall will return to the team.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32