COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)Olivier Nkamhoua had a much more satisfying experience at South Carolina than a year ago.
The Tennessee forward hurt his left ankle here in 2022 and missed the rest of the season. This time, Nkamhoua scored a season-high 21 points on 10-of-10 shooting Saturday to lead the eighth-ranked Vols to an 85-42 blowout win over the Gamecocks.
”I’m not coming back here,” Nkamhoua said with a grin. ”Last year was not the best experience for me here and this year it was a way better go at it. Luckily, I’m a senior and I don’t need to come back here.”
The Vols (13-2) started 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference for the first time in four seasons and showed the depth and talent to think that streak in the rugged league could continue.
Nkamhoua, a 6-foot-9 senior forward, led Tennessee with 10 rebounds for his second double-double this season.
Nkamhoua, who went 5 for 5 for 10 points in an 83-57 win over Mississippi State on Tuesday, continued his run of perfection against the Gamecocks.
He was a major part in the Vols’ quick start, scoring seven points the first 10 minutes. Tennessee built a 24-7 lead on the way to its ninth victory in the past 10 games with South Carolina (7-8, 0-2), which lost an SEC game by the worst margin in its history.
Nkamhoua had only one rebound combined the previous two games and Tennessee coach Rick Barnes challenged him to get more active on the boards.
”When he plays well is when he truly gets locked in to thinking about anything other than scoring,” Barnes said. ”I know he wants to be a complete player. He knows, our post players know, they have a job to do.”
Tennessee took advantage of South Carolina’s defensive lapses to build a 43-21 lead at the break.
Nkamhoua hit all five of his shots and the Vols shot 60.7% (17 of 28) in the opening half.
Tennessee was in such command that Barnes called a timeout – the Vols led 40-21 – with 15.5 seconds before halftime to practice a late-game situation. It worked perfectly as the Vols worked the ball around to Santiago Vescovi, who drained an uncontested 3-pointer as the clock ran out.
First-year South Carolina coach Lamont Paris said his team competed hard in losing in overtime at Vanderbilt on Tuesday but had no response for Tennessee’s early burst.
”Boom, it’s on you and next thing you know, Mike Tyson came out and hit you in the liver,” he said. ”You’re gasping for air and how do you respond to that. We did not respond well at all.”
Jonas Aidoo had 15 points, while Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James added 12 apiece for the Vols, who shot better than 50% for the third time in the past four games.
Meechie Johnson had 19 points for South Carolina.
Tennessee: The Vols have the deep, skilled roster necessary to win championships. The trick for Barnes will be keeping them engaged in the grind the next two months before the SEC and NCAA Tournaments take off.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks spent too much time in this one shooting from way outside – with predictable results for a team ranked last in SEC shooting. South Carolina went just 2 of its first 20 3s and finished 4 of 26 from long distance.
GG GOOSE EGG
Five-star freshman Gregory ”GG” Jackson II was South Carolina’s leading scorer this season at nearly 17 points a game and had scored in double figures his first 14 games in college until this one, when was held to zero points by Tennessee’s stifling defense. The 6-9 Jackson missed all four of his 3-pointer attempts and had just one rebound, also be far the fewest of his college career.
Tennessee is home Tuesday to face Vanderbilt.
South Carolina plays at Kentucky on Tuesday.
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