KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s Skylar McBee is dangerous enough from the perimeter to deserve attention from opposing teams. It’s the sharpshooter’s defense that’s drawn the attention of his own coach.
Coach Cuonzo Martin rewarded McBee’s tough defensive play with a spot in the starting lineup in back-to-back games, the first two starts of the junior’s career. McBee
answered with a career-high 18 points in the Volunteers’ 69-57 win against South Carolina on Wednesday night.
“I think I just bring my hard hat every day to practice,” McBee said of earning a spot in the starting lineup. “For me, it’s not about starting or coming off the bench, it’s just playing as hard as I can play.”
Trae Golden scored 14 points, and Jeronne Maymon added 12 points for the Vols.
McBee’s second trey of the game gave the Vols (12-12, 4-5 Southeastern Conference) the ultimate lead with 2:01 left in a first half that featured six ties and six lead changes. The basket launched an 8-0 run to close out the half, and Tennessee led 35-27 at the break.
Tennessee, which went 10 of 20 from behind the arc, hit seven straight 3-point attempts stretching from the end of the first half to the beginning of the second. The Vols took only 38 shots total, hitting half, and went 21 for 26 at the free-throw line.
Kenny Hall started against the Gamecocks after coming off the bench for nine games and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds. Hall replaced forward Jarnell Stokes, who suffered a mild injury to his wrist during practice this week, but Martin said Hall had earned the spot just the same.
The Gamecocks (9-14, 1-8) pulled within 58-55 on a three-point play by Bruce Ellington with 4:07 left, but it was as close as they would get. Ellington led South Carolina with 12 points.