COLUMBIA - Something about Tennessee brings out the best in South Carolina - which thereby brings out the worst in Tennessee.
Seventeen days after handing the Volunteers their worst loss of the season, the Gamecocks carved them up again in Saturday's 72-54 whitewashing before 8,492 fans at Carolina Coliseum.
Tennessee, whose point total was a season low, was the perfect cure for a team in desperate need of finding its stroke - and a player in desperate need of finding his confidence. Senior guard Aaron Lucas scored a game-high 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting in a splendid recovery from a miserable slump.
Lucas' numbers from his previous five games - 30 points on 11-of-34 shooting and 17 turnovers - left him questioning himself and his game more than ever.
Saturday, he decided to change his approach.
"I just relaxed on the floor," said Lucas, who helped the Gamecocks (14-9, 4-6 Southeastern Conference) go up by 15 points in the first half and by 25 points in the second half. "I didn't feel like I had to make things happen."
South Carolina made things happen in a big way shortly after intermission. The Gamecocks started the second half on a blistering 17-3 run that put things away. They made seven straight shots from the field during the bulge, which ended on a Lucas jumper from the foul line that gave them a 50-25 advantage with 14:08 left.
"He played within himself," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said of Lucas, "but also within what I expect him to do."
A 20-8 run by the Vols (12-11, 5-5 SEC) sliced the lead to 58-45 with 5:45 left, but Tennessee wasn't able to pull any closer. The Gamecocks shot 59 percent from the field in the second half.
"They are so physical and they make it very difficult to get the ball inside," Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said of the Gamecocks, who outscored the Vols 24-12 in the paint. "For some reason South Carolina is more physical than anyone else we've played."
The Gamecocks shot just 35 percent from the field in the first half but still led by double figures for much of the way thanks largely to 11 Tennessee turnovers and no turnovers of their own.
The Gamecocks got things started in the second half when Lucas hit a jumper with 19:29 left, then momentum shifted for good when Peterson argued a call by referee Duke Edsall, who called a double foul on South Carolina's Marius Petravicius and Tennessee's Marcus Haislip.
Edsall whistled a technical foul on Peterson, but the coach appeared unfazed. Peterson persisted and referee Tracy Woodson issued the second technical, which resulted in Peterson's ejection with 17:52 remaining.
Junior swingman Chuck Eidson hit four straight free throws to put the Gamecocks up 37-21, and South Carolina was on its way to a season sweep of the Vols.
"I was trying to get them fired up," said Peterson, whose team had four assists and 18 turnovers. "I've never been tossed. I never understood the double foul. I think it is an easy way for the referee to get out of a situation."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.