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James leads Vols to rout of South Carolina

 Brian Hartman   in Basketball

Josiah-Jordan James is back and healthy again. 

Josiah-Jordan James photo courtesy of Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee athletics.

Josiah-Jordan James returned in style, leading No. 11 Tennessee in scoring with 18 points in a wire-to-wire victory over South Carolina, 85-45, in Knoxville. 

Hayden Brown led South Carolina (10-19, 3-13 Southeastern Conference) in scoring  with 18 points (7-of-14 from the floor) He was the only Gamecock in double figures. Jacobi Wright and Meechie Johnson had 7 and 6 points respectively for South Carolina. 

South Carolina only shot 35% as a team (19-54). GG Jackson II (15 ppg avg) finished with five points while shooting 2-of-12 from the floor for the Gamecocks. Jackson didn't score vs the Vols when they played on Jan. 7; he was 0-8 from the floor in that game. 

Tennessee (21-8, 10-6 SEC) snapped a two game losing streak, winning for the first time since beating No. 1 Alabama on Feb 15.

James missed Tennessee's last four games with an ankle injury suffered on Feb 8 at Vanderbilt. He was 7-1of-11 from the floor with four made 3-pointers. He also missed several games in November and December while dealing with knee issues.

"I think his presence takes lots of pressure off of guys. He gives his teammates a comfort. I thought when he came onto the court in the first half he obviously was terrific. I thought he played with great poise and pace," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said about James' return. 

"Obviously, I'm not 100% at all, but I needed to come back and help. The team needed it. I can do enough to help. I love this place. I love the people here," James said. 

James is a native of Charleston, S.C., who played high school ball at the Porter-Gaud School there. 

"I think Josiah Jordan James makes everything when he plays against us. It must be because he is from South Carolina," Gamecock coach Lamont Paris said. 

The Vols shot 58% (36-62) as a team, their best shooting percentage in a game since they shot 55% in a win over Texas on Jan 28. 

Tennessee won both games this season  over South Carolina (10-19 3-13 SEC)by a combined 83 points. The Vols have won five straight games overall vs the Gamecocks by an average victory margin of 29 points.

Tennessee's Jahmai Mashack scored 14 points while shooting 5-of-7 from the field, hitting both of his 3-point attempts. 

Zakai Zeigler led the Vols with 11 assists while scoring 13 points. Zeigler also shot 5-of-7 from the floor.

Olivier Nkamhoua led Tennessee with eight rebounds while scoring 10 points. Uros Plavsic came off the bench to score 10 points, shooting 5-5 from the floor. 

The Vols finished with 29 assists and  only four turnovers. 

"We have a chance to be the offensive team I think they know we might be, and what we think we might be," Barnes said.

The Gamecocks struggled from the start. They missed six shots within the game's 1st minute on their first possession. Josh Gray grabbed 4 offensive rebounds during that opening sequence. He ended up with 10 rebounds for the game.

Tennessee didn't struggle from the start. Plavsic's made the Vols first shot of the game on a hook shot off the glass and they never looked back.

James came into the game at the 14:30 mark of the first half. He immediately his a 3-point shot that gave the Vols a 14-5 lead. That was part of an 11-0 spurt for Tennessee. 

Zakai Zeigler and Jahmai Mashack hit back to back 3s, part of a 14-0 Vols run that gave them 65-34 lead with seven minutes to play. 

Tyreke Key (ankle injury) and Julian Phillips (hip flexor) did not play for the Vols. Barnes said he didn't know Key would not be available until right before tipoff. 

Barnes said Key is not sure when he sustained the injury.  Phillips has missed the last four games. 

Game notes: 

- Tennessee shot fewer than 10 free throws in a game for the sixth time this season. Five of those were against an SEC opponent. Tennessee won five of those, only losing at Vanderbilt 66-65. 

- Tennessee has now held an opponent 50 points or less 12 times this season. Tennessee only gave up 42 points in its win over South Carolina in Columbia last month. 

- All three of South Carolina's SEC wins this season have been on the road. Its last win at Tennessee was in 2017, when they went on to make it to its only Final Four in school history. 

- South Carolina lost to an SEC opponent by 40 points or more for the third time this season. 

Next up: 

- Tennessee hosts Arkansas Tues Feb 28. The game tips off just after 9 Eastern on ESPN2. It will be Vols' final home game of the season

- South Carolina plays Mississippi St. Tuesday night in Starkville Miss. That game tips shortly after 9 Eastern on the SEC Network.