- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee remains tough to beat when it’s shooting well.

The next step is to prove it also can win consistently when its shots aren’t falling.

Jordan McRae scored 24 points and shot 6 of 8 from 3-point range Saturday as Tennessee trounced South Carolina 72-53 to beat the Gamecocks for the 13th consecutive time. Tennessee, which shot 52.8 percent (28 of 53) overall, hasn’t lost any of the 23 games in which it has made at least half its field-goal attempts during Cuonzo Martin’s three-year coaching tenure.

“The biggest key is we have to find a way consistently to play well, whether or not you’re making or missing shots,” Martin said. “When shots aren’t falling and you still defend, rebound and play hard, that’s a sign of elite teams, great teams. … They’re not consuming themselves with whether or not their shot is falling.”

South Carolina (8-15, 1-9 Southeastern Conference) hasn’t beaten Tennessee since an 81-64 home triumph on Feb. 17, 2007.

Tennessee (15-8, 6-4) bounced back from a 64-60 loss at Vanderbilt on Wednesday to win for the third time in its last four games. The Volunteers are 7-1 when coming off a loss this season. Next up for Tennessee is a home game Tuesday with No. 3 Florida, which buried the Vols 67-41 in Gainesville on Jan. 25.

“We’ve been bouncing back from losses all year,” McRae said. “We just need to have a better carry-over, take one win to two wins to that third on, and we haven’t done a good job doing that. I think we need to start doing that.”

South Carolina lost for the ninth time in its last 10 games.

“We just didn’t have it today,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “Our margin for error is very slim. We’ve got to play with a sense of discipline (and) toughness, and we just didn’t have that coming out of the gate today. We’ve got to make a high percentage of our shots. We didn’t do that, either.”

The Gamecocks entered the day shooting an SEC-leading 37.8 percent from 3-point range, but they went 3 of 14 from beyond the arc Saturday while Tennessee was 7 of 16. Frank Martin said Tennessee’s size on the perimeter bothered South Carolina. Tennessee’s three starting guards are all 6-foot-5 or taller.

Jarnell Stokes had 17 points and eight rebounds for Tennessee, while Jeronne Maymon had 10 points and eight rebounds. Sindarius Thornwell led South Carolina with 15 points.

Tennessee came out eager to make amends for its disappointing loss at Vanderbilt. The Vols scored the game’s first 10 points, never trailed and capitalized on their edge in size and experience over a South Carolina team that starts three freshmen.

McRae nearly outscored South Carolina by himself in the first half. McRae had 20 points in the first 20 minutes to give the Vols a 45-22 halftime advantage.

McRae was the guy we had to make sure we found, and we did an absolutely horrendous job in that area,” Frank Martin said. “He made some hard ones toward the end of the first half when we started guarding better, but when you give a good player easy looks, then you’re in trouble.”

South Carolina relied too heavily on Thornwell, a 6-5 freshman guard.

Thornwell scored South Carolina’s first nine points. The game was nearly 9 1/2 minutes old by the time someone else on South Carolina’s roster got a point. The first South Carolina points from anyone other than Thornwell or Laimonas Chatkevicius came when Brian Steele sank a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left in the first half.

South Carolina got a little more balance in the second half and briefly threatened to make a game of it. After trailing by as many as 24 points early in the second half, South Carolina went on a 10-0 spurt and cut the deficit to 54-41.

Armani Moore stopped South Carolina’s momentum by sinking a 3-pointer with 8:32 remaining. Moore’s shot started an 8-0 Tennessee run that also included a McRae 3-pointer and a basket from Maymon.

The Vols’ lead wouldn’t drop below 18 the rest of the way.

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