Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes (5) drives to the basket against Arkansas' Coty Carke (4) during the first half of their game in Fayetteville, Ark., on Saturday, Feb. 2. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
KNOXVILLE — One streak has to end Sunday when Tennessee plays at South Carolina in a matchup of struggling Southeastern Conference men's basketball teams.
Tennessee hasn't won a true road game all season, but South Carolina has lost its last 11 meetings in this series.
The Gamecocks haven't beaten the Volunteers since an 81-64 victory in Columbia on Feb. 17, 2007. No player on Tennessee's roster has ever lost to South Carolina, but that history isn't giving the Vols any extra confidence this week.
"Any team can beat anybody," Tennessee guard Jordan McRae said. "We're not going to put it past anybody. We can go in there and South Carolina can win by 20. We've got to do what we're supposed to do."
This represents UT's longest active winning streak and South Carolina's longest active losing streak in SEC competition.
If the Gamecocks fall to Tennessee for a 12th straight time Sunday, it would match their longest losing streak against an SEC opponent since joining the league in 1991-92. Kentucky won 12 straight games over South Carolina from 1998-2002.
"It doesn't really make any difference," Tennessee guard Josh Richardson said. "They've got a new coach, a new program. They're a pretty good team. We can't underestimate anybody. We have to come out and play like we know how."
Neither of these teams can afford to underestimate anyone.
Tennessee (11-10, 3-6) has lost seven of its last 10 games. Two of its three wins during that stretch were one-point victories at home.
South Carolina (12-10, 2-7) has three straight double-digit losses. Those three games were decided by an average margin of 24 points.
Both teams are coming off disappointing performances.
Tennessee lost 68-62 to Georgia on Wednesday in a performance that had Vols coach Cuonzo Martin complaining about his team's inability to slow Bulldogs star Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored 24 points.
After a 77-55 loss at Kentucky on Tuesday, South Carolina coach Frank Martin said the Gamecocks "got out of the way and let them dunk every single time."
"We just have to keep fighting each day," South Carolina guard Damien Leonard said after the game. "We can just move forward. That's all we can do."
South Carolina has lost by an average margin of 13 points during its 11-game losing streak in this series, though four of its last five games with Tennessee were decided by single digits.
UT has had a similar run of futility when on the road this season. The Vols went 2-1 in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off earlier this season, but they're 0-6 in true road games. After falling by 10 points or fewer in each of their first five road games, the Vols weren't competitive in a 73-60 loss at Arkansas last weekend.
An inability to protect the basketball has doomed Tennessee on the road. The Vols have exactly twice as many turnovers (70) as assists (35) in their four SEC road losses. UT's ball handling could get a boost Sunday from the possible return of Trae Golden, who practiced Friday after missing two games with a strained right hamstring.
Tennessee will aim to avoid turnovers Sunday while getting the ball as often as possible to sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes, who has four straight double-doubles. Stokes is averaging 13.0 points and 9.8 rebounds in SEC games.
"He's doing a really good job of being aggressive, being physical," Martin said. "And also, I think there are opportunities we could still get him the ball a little more."
Stokes' surge is a major reason the Vols remain confident they can put together a late-season run.
"We can still turn the season around," McRae said. "If we win out we'll be 12-6 (in conference games) and everyone will forget about all these losses. There's still time for us."comments powered by Disqus