COLUMBIA, S.C. — Watching Trae Golden's 3-point attempt reach the keystone of its arc, Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes had a decision to make Sunday afternoon.
Be a giant or be a gnat?
Stokes might as well have bellowed, "Fee-fi-fo-fum."
The 6-foot-9, 270-pound anchor bullied through three undersized post players from South Carolina. They latched onto him like baby brothers.
No chance. Stokes corralled the rebound, kicked a pass to the outside. Swinging around the perimeter, the ball found its way from Josh Richardson to Skylar McBee. Toeing the arc, the senior pushed a one-point lead to a four-point lead.
That's how you win on the road in the SEC.
Stokes learned as much in powering his Vols to a 66-61 victory at South Carolina's Colonial Life Arena.
"That's one of those things — I don't want to take any plays off anymore," said Stokes, basking in the contentment of a 20-point, 10-rebound showing, his fifth straight double-double. "I think that's something I've done in the past."
Casting aside the Gamecocks' record, which stands at 12-11 and 2-8 in the SEC, Stokes' sequence was a microcosm of everything that's been missing.
It was the extra play. It was the extra effort. It was the difference maker.
It was precisely what the Vols have lacked in six road losses.
Now they have their first true road win of the season. It's part of a 12-10 overall record and a 4-6 SEC mark.
"To battle on that emotional rollercoaster, trying to get road wins and losing tough games, to finally get a road win feels good," UT coach Cuonzo Martin said.
It didn't come easy. Nothing does for these Vols.
They still committed 18 turnovers, 11 after halftime.
They still shot 3-for-14 from 3-point distance, but those that fell all came in the final six minutes.
Jordan McRae, languishing through a 1-for-7 shooting night, picked a good time to make the one. His 3-pointer from the wing came with 3 minutes, 30 seconds left to give UT a 58-57 advantage it wouldn't relinquish.
It was the 16th lead change of the game.
"Everybody played their game, inside-out, just getting the ball to Jarnell and letting him do his thing and playing off of that," said Golden, who returned after missing two games with a strained hamstring to score 16 points and hit 8-of-10 free throws.
In other words, "We were gonna throw it inside to Jarnell until the cows came home," McRae said.
Stokes, who was 12 years old the last time South Carolina beat the Vols — 12 meetings ago on Feb., 17, 2007 — had help.
The unforeseen reemergence of forwards Quinton Chievous and D'Montre Edwards headlined a first half that Tennessee led 32-29. Chievous, who might as well have paid admission to UT's last eight games, was dispensed to slow down South Carolina forward Michael Carrera, who opened the game making three of four shots.
It worked. Chievous saddled him. Carrera still led the Gamecocks with 18 points, but he was hindered.
Edwards, meanwhile, played six minutes and grabbed three rebounds.
"They've earned (playing time), now who knows the next game, hopefully we can play them again so we can have a consistent rotation and flow," Martin said.
Josh Richardson added seven points, five rebounds and five assists for the Vols.
The Gamecocks shot 10-for-28 in a back-and-forth second half featuring six ties and 10 lead changes. Martin, a disciple of former Purdue coach Gene Keady's man-to-man defense, unexpectedly threw a full-court press and matchup zone defense at South Carolina.
"I don't think we have all the personnel to defend at the level I'd like to defend at, so as a coach you have to make adjustments and come to grips with it," he said. "This is one of those things that the players and the coaching staff have said, 'Coach, let's try it.' You have to do it if it's what's best for your team."
It was the best on Sunday.
The Vols held the Gamecocks scoreless in five of their last seven possessions.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn