The Vanderbilt that was robbed against Kentucky and took Ole Miss to overtime showed up at Colonial Life Arena on Saturday.
Initially, they encountered a USC team that couldn’t hit water if it fell out of a boat.
“Disinterested, lifeless,” USC coach Frank Martin said. “I’ll let you pick the negative adjective, and you can put it in there. And I promise you, I won’t call you and say you misquoted me.”
But what a second half.
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Vanderbilt escaped with a 58-51 victory that was a letdown for the Gamecocks, but the team’s growing confidence was on display during an electric stretch of the second half that brought a huge home crowd to a decibel level unheard of this season.
First, the ugly.
The Gamecocks trailed throughout the game due to horrific shooting from the field. USC shot 17.2 percent in the first half and 23.7 percent for the game in posting a season-low for points.
They missed under the basket, they missed from outside. They missed while driving the lane, they missed from mid-range.
And for one very ugly stretch, USC managed three baskets during the last 17 minutes of the first half, including 10 minutes without a basket.
Yet USC trailed 24-19 at halftime.
Michael Carrera, who put together a double-double at LSU on Wednesday, intimated fatigue was a factor for him.
“I was focused, but I don’t know what was going on because we were tired, we were really tired from the LSU game,” Carrera said.
“If he said that,” Martin said, “he and I aren’t going to get along tomorrow.”
Martin said the team’s abysmal shooting performance, especially under the basket, could have been predicted after Friday’s practice.
“I’m real disappointed, but I can’t tell you I’m surprised,” Martin said. “We were so bad (Friday) that I’m surprised we played as well as we did. My surprise is because of the positivity, not the negativity.”
There definitely were positives.
After falling behind by 10 midway through the second half, the Gamecocks found some mojo. Methodically, they battled back and, when Lakeem Jackson sank a pair of free throws with his unusual one-handed stroke, USC coach Frank Martin and the players raised their hands to dial up the crowd.
Seconds later, Jackson converted a turnover into a monster dunk, and the Gamecocks were within four, 48-44, with 5:26 remaining. When Bruce Ellington sank a pair of free throws after a steal, the Gamecocks were down by two.
Later, trailing 51-49, USC ran a play for Brenton Williams, who got the look he wanted for a go-ahead 3-pointer, but he missed.
USC would get no closer. After both teams struggled at both ends, time dwindled to the point where the Gamecocks needed to foul. Vanderbilt hit just enough at the line to salt away the game.
Williams led USC with 16 points. No other Gamecock reached double figures. Jackson finished with six points and 10 rebounds while Carrera had eight points and nine boards.
USC shot 4-of-21 from 3-point range and mustered 14 field goals for the game.
Vanderbilt (7-9, 1-3 SEC) won despite leading scorer Kedren Johnson being held to three points.
“We’re sitting here at 7-9, and we could be 10-6, so hopefully this is a shot in the arm for us,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “We’re a team that has to utilize the process. We just want to be better tomorrow than we are today. I know that sounds silly, (but) that’s what it’s about for us.”
USC (11-6, 1-3) next faces a tough road trip to Missouri. Martin echoed Stallings’ sentiment.
“It’s a daily lesson with our team,” he said. “We obviously didn’t handle winning on the road (at LSU) very well. We didn’t do a good job with that. I’ll continue to learn from our team.”
Frank Martin postgame highlights
Odom 2-3 3-4 8, Jeter 3-4 2-5 8, Moats 1-2 1-2 3, Johnson 0-6 3-4 3, Parker 2-7 6-7 11, Fuller 3-5 4-8 12, Bright 3-4 0-1 8, Henderson 2-6 1-2 5. Totals 16-37 20-33 58.
SOUTH CAROLINA (11-6)
Chatkevicius 0-2 2-2 2, Carrera 3-9 2-3 8, Jackson 2-6 2-4 6, Smith 1-5 3-3 5, Ellington 2-13 3-4 7, Williams 3-10 7-8 16, Richardson 3-8 0-1 7, Kacinas 0-1 0-0 0, Leonard 0-2 0-0 0, Slawson 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 14-59 19-25 51.
Halftime: Vanderbilt 24-19. 3-Point Goals: Vanderbilt 6-13 (Fuller 2-2, Bright 2-3, Odom 1-2, Parker 1-2, Jeter 0-1, Johnson 0-3), South Carolina 4-21 (Williams 3-7, Richardson 1-4, Slawson 0-1, Leonard 0-1, Chatkevicius 0-1, Smith 0-2, Ellington 0-5). Fouled Out: Ellington. Rebounds: Vanderbilt 40 (Johnson 8), South Carolina 33 (Jackson 10). Assists: Vanderbilt 15 (Johnson 4), South Carolina 7 (Ellington, Williams 2). Total Fouls: Vanderbilt 21, South Carolina 24. Attendance: 11,175.