KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Josiah-Jordan James came back from missing four games with an injury to score 18 points to lead No. 11 Tennessee to an 85-45 victory over South Carolina on Saturday night.
James, who suffered an ankle injury against Vanderbilt on Feb. 8, hit 4 of 7 3-pointers for the Volunteers (21-8, 10-6 Southeastern Conference). Jahmai Mashack scored 14 points, Zakai Zeigler had 13 points and 11 assists, and Olivier Nkamhoua and Uros Plavsic scored 10 each.
“(James) was terrific,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “His presence has a major impact on the team. He takes a lot of pressure off.”
“(James) is a good player; very skilled,” said South Carolina coach Lamont Paris. “He can contribute in a variety of different ways. (Tennessee is) really good when he’s in there.”
“I don’t feel any pressure,” said James, who had missed eight games earlier in the season while recovering from offseason knee surgery. “It’s just basketball. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I want to make it easy for my teammates.”
Hayden Brown led the Gamecocks (10-19, 3-13) with 18 points. GG Jackson II scored five points, 10 below his average.
A 22-4 Tennessee run in the second half turned a competitive game into a lopsided one. The Gamecocks were the 12th Tennessee opponent held to 50 points or fewer.
“(Tennessee’s) physicality had an impact on the game,” Paris said. “We’re more on the finesse end.”
“(Physicality is) who we are,” said Barnes. “Not just our post players, our guards are physical.”
Tennessee had just four turnovers and committed just eight fouls in the win over the Gamecocks, who were coming off an overtime loss to No. 2 Alabama.
“They took the (No. 2) team in the country to overtime and had a chance to win it,” said Barnes. “(The Vols) are very resilient.”
Tennessee dominated the first half down low. The Vols outscored South Carolina 26-14 in the paint and led 38-26 at halftime. James had 10 points for Tennessee and Brown led the Gamecocks with 13.
Despite the win over South Carolina, Tuesday’s five-point loss to Texas A&M will be destined to cost No. 11 Tennessee once the polls are released Monday. … With the postseason in sight, the Vols are able to hang their hat on five Quad 1 victories.
South Carolina: Freshman star Jackson hasn’t disappointed by averaging 15.5 points and six rebounds He’s one of three freshmen in the country averaging at least 15 points and six boards. … Jacobi Wright has made himself a fixture in the starting lineup the last six games. … After struggling through most of the SEC campaign, the Gamecocks have been 2-3 over their last five games, including taking Alabama to overtime before falling by two. … First-year South Carolina head coach Lamont Paris was in the University of Tennessee system (as head coach at Chattanooga) for five years.
Tennessee: The Vols are in the middle of a six-team battle for the final two double-bye spots for the SEC Tournament. … James (knee) and Julian Phillips (hip flexor) had missed the last two weeks. During that time Tennessee has had trouble. In their last seven games (before meeting the Gamecocks), the Vols had lost five. James saw limited action but was productive. Phillips went through warmups but did not play. … Tyreke Key missed the game with a right ankle injury. … Freshman inside presence Tobe Awaka has come on to average 18 minutes of playing time in the last six games, well above his bit parts earlier.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks will visit Mississippi State on Tuesday. Earlier in the season, they fell to the Bulldogs, 66-51.
Tennessee: The Volunteers will play their final home game of the season Tuesday against Arkansas.
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