“Kotsar last year would avoid getting fouled because he did not want to shoot a free throw,” Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said. “Then he has the courage to hit four, and they weren’t Hail Marys. They were all in the bottom of the net.”
Trailing 60-59 with 1:15 to play, the Gamecocks (16-9, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) were kicking themselves for their own mistakes. One of the nation’s worst teams at fouling and shooting free throws was once again living up to its twin reputation, with 24 fouls and 13 misses from the line.
Yet, after Tennessee’s Santiago Vescovi turned the ball over and Jordan Bowden had to foul Kotsar, South Carolina’s senior forward, to prevent a fast break, Kotsar calmly sank two free throws for a one-point lead.
“Honestly, I wasn’t thinking much. I just knew I had to make them,” said Kotsar, who led the Gamecocks with 13 points. “Just tried to take my time, tried not to rush it.”
Tennessee’s John Fulkerson, who scored a career-high 25 points, then was whistled for charging into South Carolina’s Keyshawn Bryant. Fulkerson had drawn a charge on South Carolina’s A.J. Lawson to clinch a 56-55 win in Knoxville on Jan. 11.
Kotsar was again flawless from the line, and Martin elected to intentionally foul with a three-point lead. Guard Josiah-Jordan James made his first free throw, then threw the second attempt hard into the front of the rim.
He rebounded it but was forced to shoot from the side of the court with less than four seconds to play. He missed to send the Vols (14-11, 6-6) to their third loss in five games.
“They finished it the way they wanted to and we didn’t,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We needed to make one offensive play and we didn’t do it. And they did.”
Tennessee: The Vols’ NCAA tournament hopes took a hit, but they can still get back onto the bubble down the homestretch. They play Auburn twice and Kentucky once in their last six regular-season games.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have won 8 of 11 and can see the postseason glowing. They’re playing confidently even without Justin Minaya, out until at least March with a thumb injury.
Former South Carolina guard P.J. Dozier was recognized during a timeout. The timing was interesting considering South Carolina received a notice of allegations from the NCAA on Thursday, which mentioned Dozier.
Former assistant coach Lamont Evans is alleged to have accepted bribes from a sports agency representative to steer Dozier toward that agency. Neither Martin, South Carolina nor Dozier was alleged to have committed any NCAA violation in the notice.
Martin said he is confident that nothing will reflect negatively on the university or threaten accomplishments from Dozier’s teams. He was the point guard during the Gamecocks’ run to the 2017 Final Four.
The Gamecocks and Vols combined for 52 fouls.
In the game in Knoxville, they had 51.
In a quick turnaround, Tennessee hosts Vanderbilt on Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Commodores are living in the basement of the SEC standings.
South Carolina travels to face Mississippi State on Wednesday. It will be the first of two games with the Bulldogs over 13 days.