Hanging around the upper echelon of the SEC East for the entire season, but never regarded as a threat, the Tennessee Volunteers (10-5, 19-10) got right when the getting was good, downing front-running South Carolina for the second time this season, this time on the Gamecocks' home court.
Tyler Smith. J.P. Prince and Wayne Chism stepped into their leadership roles gradually this season after the departure of 2007-08 leader Chris Lofton, but finally have gelled into the solid unit which delivered the death blows that knocked off the Gamecocks, 86-70 and captured the SEC West title.
In a truly dominating performance, Smith scored a game high 22 points, Prince had 20 and Chism finished with 15.
The game was close until the about five minutes into the second half when the Vols went on a tear that would seal the victory. Leading by just four at the half, the Vols stretched their lead to as many as 17 as time wound under six minutes. They would eventually lead by 20 as the clock ran down.
After losses by both Kentucky and Florida on Wednesday, the Volunteers found themselves in a flatfooted tie with South Carolina for the top spot in the SEC East at 9-5 and made the most of their opportunity. The result of their final regular season home game, on Saturday against Alabama (6-9, 16-13) is now immaterial, as they lay claim the division crown.
Elsewhere, in Top 25 action, #11 Villanova laid waste to the Providence Friars, 97-80, casting serious doubt on the Friars' post-season aspirations. The Wildcats (25-6, 13-5) are a shoo-in for a #3 or 4 seeding in the NCAAs, but the 18-12, 10-8 Friars will spend the next two weeks sitting atop the tournament bubble. Unless they produce some magic in next week's Big East tournament, their chances of making the NCAA field are virtually nil.