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Jan 17, 2004

Box Score?|? Quotes?|? Notes

AP Sports Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Josh Gonner scored a career high 24 points and South Carolina continued on its best start in 34 years with a 85-64 victory over Tennessee on Saturday.

The Gamecocks improved to 16-2, their best record at this point since the 1969-70 team of the late Frank McGuire went 18-1. South Carolina’s 3-1 start in the Southeastern Conference is also its best since 1996-97 when it won its first 11 league games on the way to its only SEC title.

And the Gamecocks got there against Tennessee in unlikely fashion – making shots on offense and holding the high-powered Vols (10-3, 2-2) to one of their worst offensive showings of the season.

South Carolina has only shot better than 50 percent twice before this season. With Gonner leading the way, the Gamecocks were a season’s best 63.6 percent (35 of 55) from the field. Gonner was 10 of 13, and hit three of his four 3-pointers.

Gonner, a junior college transfer in his first year at South Carolina, topped his previous high of 19 points set in a win over North Carolina State last month.

Meanwhile, South Carolina’s defense, which led the SEC in fewest points allowed, was as strong as ever. They held Scooter McFadgon, the league’s top scorer coming in with a 19.1 point average, to 7 points – tying his season low – on 3 of 13 shooting.

South Carolina coach Dave Odom emphasized all this offense the past two practices since his team’s ugly 53-51 overtime win at Auburn on Wednesday night. He wanted improved execution and better shooting.

How does 63 percent (17 of 27) from the field in the first half sound?

The Gamecocks rushed out to a 21-3 lead, hitting eight of their first 10 shots. Michael Boynton, on his 22nd birthday no less, hit three 3-pointers on the way to 11 points in the opening half.

Tennessee, meanwhile, looked little like the offensive machine it’s been this year.

John Winchester made the first shot, less than 90 seconds in, then the Vols didn’t connect again until Brandon Crump’s three-point play seven minutes later.

McFadgon missed his first five attempts, finally breaking through for a field goal with 2:00 remaining. However, threes by McFadgon, Winchester and C.J. Watson in the last 3:26 cut a 23-point deficit for Tennessee to 40-27 at the break.

The Gamecocks picked up where they left off, hitting six of their first 10 shots of the second half to extend the lead to 52-31 with 15:22 to remaining. Their margin grew to 68-42 with eight minutes left.

Boynton and Tarence Kinsey finished with 13 points each for South Carolina.

Watson and Crump led Tennessee with 15 points each.