Tennessee Basketball Wins SEC Championship With Win over South Carolina

The Tennessee Volunteers have won their second SEC Championship under Rick Barnes with their 66-59 win at South Carolina.

Mar 6, 2024; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Tennessee Volunteers forward Jonas Aidoo (0) drives past
Mar 6, 2024; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Tennessee Volunteers forward Jonas Aidoo (0) drives past / Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee basketball survived a late second-half comeback from South Carolina to secure their second SEC Championship under Rick Barnes. Tennessee's defense allowed South Carolina to hang around throughout the second half, but the Vols made clutch free throws down the stretch to get the 66-59 win in Columbia.

Coming into this game, it was clear that the Tennessee Volunteers and South Carolina Gamecocks would emphasize efficient defensive play. Whoever won the battle in the paint was probably going to win the game.

Rick Barnes commented after Tennessee's loss to South Carolina earlier in the season that it is their goal to hold every team under 69 points. That's the magic number for the Vols defense. Barnes' team not only held the Gamecocks under 69 points, but they held them to only 59 points, which was enough to give the Vols the win.

While defense was the focus, the Vols struggled, scoring down low on the offensive end of the court. Countless missed dunks, layups, and shots around the rim cost the Vols throughout the game.

If Tennessee had made these easy shots, it could have easily separated itself from South Carolina and prevented the Gamecocks from hanging around throughout the second half. Although Tennessee struggled to score in the paint, so did South Carolina.

Tennessee's offense was unsurprisingly led by Dalton Knecht, who finished the game with 26 points and 5-of-11 from three. Knecht started the game 4-for-4 from beyond the three-point line but cooled off throughout the game.

While Knecht struggled from three throughout most of the game, he still put on another good performance for the National Player of the Year voters. Knecht will go into the final SEC game of the regular season averaging 26.75 points per game in conference play.

Zakai Zeigler also continued to do what he does best. He played tight defense, forcing mistakes from South Carolina and finished with 13 points and seven assists.

South Carolina and Tennessee did everything they could to keep the Gamecocks in the game throughout the second half. The Gamecocks were able to make some three-point shots late to slowly close the Vols' lead, while Tennessee struggled to score. Excluding free throws, Tennessee scored nine points in the last ten minutes of the game.

Tennessee's largest second-half lead was 14, but that was slowly cut down to six down the stretch. Without free throws, Tennessee loses this game. The Vols shot 19-for-22 from the free throw stripe, with 11 points coming from free throws in the last ten minutes of the game.

It is clear that Tennessee's offense will continue to revolve heavily around Knecht. The Vols will still have to pride themselves on their paint play and physical defense. South Carolina had nothing to lose, having been picked last in the SEC prior to the season, and the Vols outlasted a raucous crowd and good opponent in Colonial Life Arena.

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With Tennessee's win, the Vols are the regular-season SEC Champions, the number one seed in the SEC tournament, and might be favored over Arizona to get the final one-seed in the NCAA tournament. On Saturday, the Vols have one final test to end the regular season with their top-15 matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats.