South Carolina (8-7, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) had the ball in the closing seconds with a chance to take the lead, but A.J. Lawson drove into Fulkerson in the lane and was called for the offensive foul. Tennessee (10-5, 2-1) threw a long pass that Jordan Bowden caught while staying inbounds to run out the clock.
Lawson, who entered the day with a team-leading 15.2 points per game, had just four Saturday and missed all seven of his field-goal attempts.
Santiago Vescovi added 13 points and Josiah-Jordan James had 10 for Tennessee. South Carolina’s Maik Kotsar had 17 and Jermaine Couisnard had 15.
Tennessee led 56-53 and had possession in the final minute, but Lawson stole the ball from Vescovi and hit a pair of free throws with 36.5 seconds left to cut the lead to 56-55.
Bowden missed a 3-pointer on the Vols’ next possession, but the ball went out of bounds off South Carolina with 10.4 seconds left. Tennessee then missed a desperation attempt as the shot clock expired, giving South Carolina one last chance that ended with the Lawson charge.
The narrow victory ended Tennessee’s recent home woes.
The Vols entered Saturday having lost three of their last four games at Thompson-Boling Arena, a stretch that followed a 31-game home winning streak.
The Vols owned the nation’s longest active Division I home winning streak before losing 51-47 to No. 13 Memphis. Tennessee beat Jacksonville State in its next home game but followed that with home losses to Wisconsin and LSU.
Tennessee regained its home-court edge Saturday despite shooting just 25.9% (14 of 54) from the floor and 19.4% (6 of 31) from 3-point range. South Carolina shot just 32.8% (20 of 61) overall and 15.4% (2 of 13) from beyond the arc.
The difference came at the foul line.
Tennessee shot 22-for-28 on free-throw attempts, including 14-for-16 in the second half. South Carolina went 7-for-15 in the second half and 13-for-22 for the game.
It was apparent pretty early that points would be at a premium. Each team had more turnovers than baskets in the first half.
Tennessee took a 7-0 lead in the first 90 seconds of the game and then went nearly 10 ½ minutes before making its next basket. Tennessee later erased an eight-point, second-half deficit by going on a 14-2 run as South Carolina went over six minutes without a basket.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks entered the day with a 3-0 record in true road games, but they couldn’t capitalize on numerous opportunities to tie the game or take the lead down the stretch, including a missed dunk attempt by Lawson with 3:39 left. South Carolina has the SEC’sworst free-throw percentage and continually hurt itself from the line Saturday.
Tennessee: The Vols’ ability to get to the foul line and knock down their free throws saved the Vols on a day when they couldn’t make shots from anywhere else and committed 19 turnovers.
South Carolina hosts No. 14 Kentucky on Wednesday.
Tennessee visits Georgia on Wednesday.
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