#18 Tennessee (7-2) vs. USC Upstate (2-7)
Tuesday, December 18th, 2021 | 6:00pm CT
Knoxville, TN | Thompson-Boling Arena
Knoxville, TN – The 18th-ranked Tennessee men’s basketball team is back in action Tuesday, December 14th taking on USC Upstate at 6:00pm CT at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tuesday’s game can be streamed online through SEC Network+/WatchESPN. Visit espn.com/watch or download the ESPN app to view the game on a computer or mobile device. Michael Wottreng (play-by-play) and Steve Hamer (analyst) will have the call.
Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Bob Kesling and Bert Bertelkamp calling the action. The broadcast is also available on channel 81 on Sirius, SiriusXM, and the SiriusXM app.
Josiah-Jordan James shot a career-high 4-of-7 (.571) on 3-pointers and tied with Brandon Huntley-Hatfield for the team lead in points, with 12. Santiago Vescovi was the third Vol to score in double-figures, with 10 points. Vescovi also tied career-highs in both assists (8) and steals (4).
Tuesday marks the third all-time meeting between Tennessee and USC Upstate. The Vols defeated the Spartans in Knoxville last season, 80-60. Tennessee is 27-0 all-time against current members of the Big South Conference, while Rick Barnes is 22-0 against Big South opposition as a head coach.
Tennessee won both of its previous meetings with USC Upstate, both of which took place at Thompson-Boling Arena in 2013 and 2020.
Tennessee’s margin of victory in this brief, two-game series is 14.5 points.
Tennessee is 27-0 all-time against current members of the Big South Conference. And Rick Barnes is 22-0 against Big South opposition as a head coach.
USC Upstate freshman Jordan Gainey is the oldest son of first-year Tennessee assistant coach Justin Gainey. Jordan Gainey has already claimed two Big South Freshman of the Week awards this season.
Justin Gainey starred as a guard at NC State from 1996-2000. At the conclusion of his Wolfpack career, Gainey ranked second in program history in starts (103), fourth in steals (190), tied for fifth in games played (128) and ninth in assists (344).
Layup Lines – Team
Tennessee leads the nation in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. See “Nation’s Top-Rated Defense” note below.
The 36 points scored by UNC Greensboro Saturday were the fewest points allowed by the Vols since they limited Ohio Northern to 33 in the 1983-84 opener.
The Vols are leading the SEC in both assists per game (18.2 apg) and assist/turnover ratio (1.7).
46 percent of Tennessee’s points this season have been scored by first-year Vols (320 of 689).
The Vols are attempting 8.9 more 3-pointers per game than they did last season (28.8 per game compared to 19.9). In wins, UT is shooting .391 from long range. In losses, that average drops to .164.
Tennessee owns a +30.6 scoring margin at home this season (85.2 ppg to 54.6 ppg).
Tennessee ranks fifth nationally in average home attendance this season, drawing 16,348 fans per game at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Layup Lines – Players
Freshman All-America candidate Kennedy Chandler has scored or assisted on 34.5 percent of Tennessee’s points this season.
Sophomore guard Justin Powell is shooting .733 from 3-point range at home this season (11-of-15).
Fulkerson has eight blocks over UT’s last two games.
Santiago Vescovi made 18 total 2-point field goals in 27 games last season. He’s already made 19 2-point field goals through nine games this year—many of them layups.
About the USC Upstate Spartans
USC Upstate enters Tuesday’s game with a 2-7 record. The Spartans have played two games against major conference teams—a 78-60 loss to South Carolina on November 9th and a 79-53 loss to Wake Forest on December 11th.
Currently, in his fourth season at USC Upstate, head coach Dave Dickerson served on the Ohio State coaching staff for seven seasons prior to taking the USC Upstate job—the final six seasons as associate head coach. With stops at five other schools, Dickerson boasts more than 20 years of total college coaching experience.
Tennessee assistant coach Justin Gainey‘s son Jordan Gainey has been a major contributor for USC Upstate. Gainey is second on the team in scoring (10.1 ppg) and has been named Big South Freshman of the Week twice this season.
Senior Bryson Mozone is the Spartans’ leading scorer this season with 13.6 points per game. Mozone has been Upstate’s leading scorer in six games this season.
Former Spartan and Knoxville native Ty Greene is one of the most decorated players in USC Upstate program history. Greene starred at Knoxville’s Bearden High School before going on to play at USC Upstate from 2011-15. Greene won the 2015 Lou Henson Award, which honors the nation’s top mid-major player.
USC Upstate is a publicly funded university in the University of South Carolina system, founded in 1967. The school was originally founded as the University of South Carolina Spartanburg, before changing its name to USC Upstate in 2004.
Tennessee’s Last Meeting With USC Upstate
A balanced offensive effort and timely stops on the defensive end pushed eighth-ranked Tennessee past USC Upstate, 80-60, on December 23rd, 2020, at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Every Vol who saw action scored, withstanding Upstate’s efficient 9-of-18 shooting performance from 3-point range.
Victor Bailey Jr. led Tennessee in scoring for the second consecutive game, pouring in 18 points, while knocking down a career-high-tying eight field goals.
On the boards, Josiah-Jordan James led the way with a game-high eight rebounds. He scored 11 points while shooting an efficient 3-of-5 from the field and 5-of-6 from the foul line. He also added five assists and three steals.
Santiago Vescovi scored nine points and dished off a career-high-tying eight assists.
John Fulkerson was the third Vol to reach double-figures, scoring 10 points and knocking down all six of his attempts from the foul line.
Olivier Nkamhoua was a perfect 4-of-4 from the field while recording nine points, an assist, one steal, and a block off the bench.
The contest’s opening 12 minutes were defined by both squads holding firm on the defensive end. But the Vols shot a stellar .714 from the field while assisting on 9-of-10 field goals to take a 23-15 lead at the under-eight media break of the first half.
The programs exchanged punches over the final eight minutes of the period, with UT holding on to its advantage, edging the Spartans, 33-26, at the halftime horn.
The start of the second half saw much of the same, with the sides trading blows and the Vols maintaining a 10-point lead at the under-12 timeout.
Through the game’s final stages, Tennessee clamped down on defense and took advantage of a number of transition buckets, stretching its lead to as many as 22 before walking away with the 20-point victory.
Tommy Bruner led the Spartans with 18 points and was the first player all season to make more than five field-goal attempts against the Vols.
Nation’s Top-Rated Defense
Twice during the Barnes era, Tennessee’s adjusted defensive efficiency (per KenPom) has ranked among the top 10 nationally.
KenPom currently rates Tennessee’s defensive efficiency as the best in the country.
Last year’s Vols finished the season with the nation’s fifth-best defensive efficiency, allowing only 88.1 points per 100 possessions.
SEASON DEF. EFF. NAT’L RANK
2021-22 86.0 1
2020-21 88.1 5
2019-20 95.8 62
2018-19 96.5 42
2017-18 92.4 6
2016-17 97.5 55
The Vols’ current scoring defense of 58.6 ppg is the program’s best since the 1966-67 season (54.0 ppg).
Tennessee’s 76-36 win over UNC Greensboro on December 11th marked UT’s fewest points allowed during the shot-clock era. It was the lowest point total for an opponent since Ohio Northern scored 33 in 1983.
Defensively, the Vols strung together back-to-back 20-minute halves allowing only 15 points. Texas Tech scored 15 in the second half on December 7th, and UNC Greensboro scored 15 in the first half on December 11th.
The Vols have forced 25 turnovers—a Barnes-era best—twice this season, against Presbyterian and UNCG.
Kennedy Chandler tied Tennessee’s single-game record with seven steals against Presbyterian.
Zeigler Won’t Back Down
True freshman guard Zakai Zeigler has proven to be a rock-solid addition to this Tennessee roster. He exploded for a team-high 18 points in the Vols’ win over North Carolina.
Zeigler ranks sixth on the team in scoring (7.2 ppg), third in total assists (22) and fourth in steals 1.2 spg) while logging 18.3 minutes off the bench.
Among Vols who average five or more minutes per game, Zeigler owns the best plus/minus rating per 40 minutes at +27.3.
Zeigler also owns a 1.83 assist/turnover ratio.
Next Up For Tennessee Vols Basketball
The Tennessee men’s basketball team heads to the mid-state for a neutral site matchup with the Memphis Tigers on Saturday at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 11:00am CT on ESPN2.