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Vols fail to slow down Gamecocks

By Steve Megargee

Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — South Carolina is off to its fastest start to Southeastern Conference competition in two decades.

The Gamecocks understand that will matter a whole lot more if they also have a quality finish.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 22 points Wednesday as South Carolina defeated Tennessee 70-60 for its third straight victory. South Carolina (13-3, 3-0 SEC) is off to just its second 3-0 start in Southeastern Conference competition since joining the league in 1991-92.

 The Gamecocks also had a 3-0 start to league play in 1996-97 and went on to post a 15-1 SEC record and earn the conference’s regular-season title that year.

“It means a lot just because I remember times we were 0-3 starting SEC play,” Thornwell said. “It means a lot. We’ve kind of preached to the young guys how much it means and how much every game counts.”

South Carolina is chasing its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2004. South Carolina won its first 15 overall games last year — including a 2-0 start in SEC play — but landed in the NIT after fading down the stretch.

“Every game’s going to be a grind,” Thornwell said. “It doesn’t get any easier from here, so we try to stay focused and prepare every game like it’s our last and try to keep winning.”

The Gamecocks also have earned back-to-back SEC road wins for the first time since 2011. In its last road game, South Carolina won 67-61 at Georgia on Jan. 4.

South Carolina’s defense and tenacity helped the Gamecocks withstand their offensive struggles on a night when each team committed 22 turnovers.

“Between turnovers and fouls and bad decisions, we just made this a prehistoric game today,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “It’s unbelievable, the inability to understand time, score and make better decisions. I can’t speak for (Tennessee). I’m speaking for our team. But it’s a win, and we did play hard.”

Tennessee (8-8, 1-3) shot just 32.7 percent and struggled to score one night after announcing that junior guard Detrick Mostella had been dismissed from the team. Mostella had been averaging 10.5 points per game to rank second on the team.