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Five Things: Carolina Crushed

Let’s take a quick look at Five Things from Tennessee’s 72-53 win over South Carolina on Saturday afternoon in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Tennessee senior forward Jeronne Maymon (News Sentinel photo)

The Vols (15-8, 6-4 SEC) jumped all over the Gamecocks (8-15, 1-9) to take an early double-digit lead and put the game to bed well before the halftime break.

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NOT INSIGNIFICANT

Let’s be real: Beating South Carolina, in and of itself, isn’t a terribly tough task. Look at the Gamecocks’ record.

The margin of this win, though, was impressive.

Six of South Carolina’s first eight SEC losses this season were by single digits, and many were by one or two possessions. The extremely young Gamecocks hadn’t been embarrassed that much.

Well ... they were embarrassed Saturday. The Vols led 42-19 late in the first half before taking their foot off the gas just a bit and giving some reserves — including senior guard D’Montre Edwards, a South Carolina native — plenty of playing time.

This game wasn’t close, despite a couple of small South Carolina flurries in the second half. The game was over at that point.

Vols' Jordan McRae (KNS photo)

Let’s not schedule a parade through Downtown Knoxville anytime soon. But let’s not pretend Tennessee wasn’t good Saturday afternoon. The Vols were very good, for the most part.

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THIS IS HOW YOU TREAT AN UNDERDOG

Some will point to South Carolina’s small flurries in the second half as a reason for concern.

But let’s be real. It wasn’t.

The Vols treated an undersized underdog exactly how they should have in the opening minutes, quickly building a double-digit lead by ruthlessly pounding the ball inside and piling up paint points.

It’s human nature to de-throttle a bit in the second half of such a lopsided game, but the Vols steadied themselves in plenty of time to keep the game out of reach.

Again, though, Martin’s reserves did little to inspire with their cameos off the bench. The staff has tried to play those guys in blowouts in the past, and they’ve struggled in many of those situations.

Vols sophomore Armani Moore (UT photo)

But that’s another problem for another day. On this day, it wasn’t a big deal.

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FIRST HALF WAS MAMBA TIME

Those who came to Thompson-Boling on Saturday — and more on that below — saw a small slice of history.

Vols senior All-SEC guard Jordan McRae became the first Tennessee player since All-American Chris Lofton in 2008 to reach 20 points in the first half of a game.

McRae went into full-blown Orange Mamba mode in the first half, scoring 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from 3-point range.

Like many of his teammates, McRae backed off a bit in the first half, scoring just 24 points.

If necessary, though, he probably could have neared or even reached 40.

McRae isn’t 100 percent consistent, but he’s close. And he’s still one of the best offensive players in the SEC, if not all of college basketball. It’s tough to think of an offensive move he doesn’t have in his bag.

Twenty-four points on 14 shots is very good efficiency, especially for a guard.

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TOMMY BOWL AIN’T DEAD YET

Saturday’s attendance — a very good 17,215, considering the opponent — showed that perhaps there’s still some spirit in the Tennessee fan base despite an up-and-down season.

Tennessee expects a much bigger crowd for Tuesday’s home game against third-ranked Florida, but Saturday’s attendance was certainly a solid surprise.

Of course, Saturday’s crowd wasn’t very loud. But this game was over shortly after it began.

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TOUGH TUESDAY COMING UP

Kudos to the Vols for bouncing back from a tough, avoidable, mid-week loss at Vanderbilt and taking care of business against an inferior opponent.

But now the real test begins.

Third-ranked Florida — the SEC’s best team by a country mile, and a legitimate national championship contender — comes to Knoxville on Tuesday for a game that could give the Vols a signature win for their NCAA Tournament resume.

As good as Florida (21-2, 10-0) has been in every gym this season, the Gators, like most teams, are much better at home. Florida has been a bit less invincible on the road, but the veteran Gators have been tough enough to remain unbeaten away from the friendly confines of the O’Dome.

Good crowds have lifted Tennessee to big, big wins over Florida several times in recent years, and the Vols could use another one Tuesday night. It’s not a do-or-die game, but it’s a big game. The Vols need to at least be competitive in that game.

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Contact Wes Rucker at wrucker@247sports.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247

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