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March 14, 2008

Tennessee survives against South Carolina

MORE: Severe weather delays SEC tournament play


OVERVIEW: Tennessee avoided a quarterfinal upset at the hands of South Carolina when Chris Lofton hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 11.4 seconds left for an 89-87 win Friday. The Gamecocks gave the Volunteers all they could handle as Bruce Pearl's team tries to capture an SEC Tournament title to go with its conference regular-season championship. Tennessee (29-3) hasn't won the SEC Tournament since 1979. The Gamecocks were able to run with Tennessee for much of the second half but missed three of six free throws during a critical stretch in the final seven minutes. Sophomore Wayne Chism tied a career-high with 23 points and had a career-high five blocks. South Carolina's Devan Downey scored 26 points and had five assists. He also had five steals, giving him an SEC-record 103 for the season; Arkansas' Clint McDaniel had set the record of 102 in 1994-95.

BIG PICTURE: Tennessee remains in the running for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament although the Volunteers' semifinal opponent, the winner of Arkansas-Vanderbilt, may sense chum in the water after Tennessee turned the ball over 18 times.

TURNING POINT: This game wasn't decided until Lofton's 3-pointer, but a critical stretch inside seven minutes decided South Carolina's fate. The Gamecocks made it to the line on three separate occasions but went only 3-of-6. Meanwhile, Tennessee's Tyler Smith took over, scoring all 12 of Tennessee's points during that span. Tennessee led 86-85 after the run.

WHAT'S NEXT: A coaching search will begin in earnest for South Carolina after Dave Odom's retirement. Virginia Commonwealth's Anthony Grant has been mentioned as a possible candidate. Whoever inherits the Gamecocks will have a roster that returns all five starters.

NOTES: There were four lead changes in the final minute. Odom took the Gamecocks to just one NCAA tourney in his seven seasons at the school. The Vols shot 56.5 percent from the floor; they now are 8-0 this season when they hit at least half their shots in a game.

Video Highlights: Tennessee 89, South Carolina 87

Mississippi State 69, Alabama 67 (OT)

OVERVIEW: A severe storm in downtown Atlanta that caused a one-hour delay during overtime didn't faze Mississippi State on the way to a 69-67 win over Alabama in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. Alabama forced overtime with a 3-pointer from Mykal Riley that danced around the rim as time expired to tie the game at 59. Jamont Gordon scored 23 points and added nine rebounds, taking over the game at times. Mississippi State overcame 18 turnovers.

BIG PICTURE: The course of the SEC Tournament will be altered by the storms that damaged downtown Atlanta and caused the postponement of the Kentucky-Georgia quarterfinal. Mississippi State, the top seed in the SEC West, reaches the semifinals for the second consecutive year. Alabama could be headed to the inaugural College Basketball Invitational.

TURNING POINT: Mississippi State led 62-61 at the 2:11 mark of overtime when the game was delayed. The Bulldogs came out of the locker room focused and kept their lead.

WHAT'S NEXT: Officials were unsure of how the tournament would continue after the storm postponed the Kentucky-Georgia nightcap. Before a decision can be made on the tournament, administrators must determine if it is safe or practical to play at the Georgia Dome for the remainder of the tournament.

Video Highlights: Mississippi State 69, Alabama 67 (OT)

MORE: Rivals.com Daily Bubble Watch | Drive for 65: Forecasting the Field | Play Tourney Pick'em

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