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Jan. 8, 2006

Box Score | Quotes | Notes

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Chris Lofton had 18 points and Tennessee overcame a 15-point, second-half deficit to continue its best start in five years with a 76-69 victory against South Carolina on Sunday.

At first, the Vols didn’t look anything like the surprise club that won at Texas and topped the Southeastern Conference in scoring. But behind Lofton’s outside shooting — he was 6 of 7 from 3-point range — Tennessee moved to 10-1, its best mark since starting 16-1 in 2000-01.

South Carolina (9-5) held Tennessee to 9 of 29 shooting in the opening half and were up 40-25 on Brandon Wallace’s basket with 18:14 to go.

That’s when Lofton and the Vols got hot, hitting 10 3-pointers the rest of the way to win the SEC opener for both teams.

Lofton had a 3-pointer to cut South Carolina’s lead to 40-30. Then Dane Bradshaw, JaJuan Smith and Jordan Howell added threes for the Vols. By the time Lofton added his fifth 3-pointer with 13:39 left, the lead was down to 47-42.

C.J. Watson tied things at 57-all on his basket and Smith followed with an old-fashioned three-point play that put Tennessee up 60-57.

And the Vols kept up their outside shooting to close things out as Smith, Lofton, Watson and Bradshaw all made threes down the stretch.

After its poor first-half shooting performance, Tennessee hit 18 of 28 shots (64.3 percent) including 10 of 13 from long range.

Watson added 17 points, Bradshaw 14 and Smith 13.

The loss ruined a perfect performance by South Carolina’s Tarence Kinsey, who was 6-of-6 overall, 4-of-4 on 3-pointers and 2-of-2 from the foul line for 18 points. He played just 29 minutes, though, because of foul trouble.

South Carolina seemed to have the Vols in check early on. Tennessee made only one of its first nine shots and trailed 10-2 in the first six minutes. The Vols had another field-goal drought of nearly five minutes midway through the period as South Carolina increased the lead to 27-13.

Nowhere did Tennessee excel in the first half. The league’s top free-throw shooting team went just 3 of 12 from the foul line in the first 20 minutes.

Kinsey and the Gamecocks took advantage of Tennessee’s problems.

Kinsey opened with South Carolina’s first 8 points, including two 3-pointers, and finished a perfect half at 4-of-4 overall and 3-of-3 from behind the arc.

Everything went right for the Gamecocks, right down to the half’s final possession. Bryce Sheldon fumbled a pass to the outside that would’ve have given him a wide-open three as the shot clock ticked down. Still, with a defender in his face, Sheldon hit a desperation, fade-away 3-pointer to send South Carolina to the locker room ahead 35-23.