Frank Martin preaches hustle. Sometimes shots don’t go, he says, but that can be overcome by getting the loose balls, going hard to the rim for rebounds and finding a way to claim that carom for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks listened, which they had been doing.
But this time, they turned the words into action.
USC overwhelmed Vanderbilt on the boards on Thursday and rode the advantage to a 65-59 win, the Gamecocks’ second SEC win of the year and the breaker of a three-game losing streak. USC (9-15, 2-9 SEC) coincidentally also won another game after a winter storm – the previous one on Jan. 29 led to its first SEC win, over Texas A&M.
“Played strong today,” Martin said. “That’s why we grabbed 26 rebounds. We didn’t shy away from contact. When the ball was on the rim, we weren’t taking the hits, we were going after the ball.”
Whatever the weather, USC’s desire and effort finally paid off. The Gamecocks built a 13-point lead after Brian Steele finished a transition layup assist from Duane Notice, and even after allowing the Commodores (13-10, 5-6) to get within six, didn’t panic. They went back to the well, got a bounce and converted it.
Sindarius Thornwell, who led USC with 19 points, dribbled clock before driving the left side. His one-handed scoop didn’t go, but he came down just under the rim as the ball slipped under an outstretched Vanderbilt arm. Thornwell caught and elevated, kissing the ball off the glass and in for the clinching points.
“When I looked up , the clock was running out,” Thornwell said. “I knew (James Siakam) couldn’t guard me off the dribble. It just so happened, when I missed the layup, the ball came right back to me. I was in the right place at the right time.”
USC finished with 45 rebounds, 26 offensive, to Vanderbilt’s 31. The passion on the boards helped overcome Vanderbilt’s super freshman, Damian Jones, who nearly undid the Gamecocks with 15 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks. Jones had 26 blocks all season before Thursday.
The Gamecocks locked in on him when they needed to, though, forcing a travel on one late possession and Michael Carrera consistently sticking his hands into Jones’ arms to force tie-ups. USC got a combined 43 points from Notice, Thornwell and Brenton Williams while six players had at least four rebounds each.
“We’ve been trying to do that all year,” Thornwell said. “Everybody came to play. They did what coach wanted us to do we all did what coach wanted us to do.”
USC got a confidence-boosting win and its big men also breathed easy. They mostly stayed on the floor for perhaps the first time in the SEC season, and all contributed to the rebounding totals. Carrera also scored six, while Laimonas Chatkevicius scored seven. Demetrius Henry only scored two points but snared six rebounds.
“When we got to SEC play, our bigs were really struggling,” said Mindaugas Kacinas, who had seven boards. “Everything is about the mentality, how focused you are. I’d be really pissed if I didn’t get the ball on the defensive glass. I hate to get just seven boards. I want to get 10 every time.”
Martin congratulated his team and prepared for another home game on Saturday. Perhaps the snow, which has become the team’s unlikely good-luck charm, will stick around until then.
If not, maybe the mentality USC showed on Thursday will.
“Real happy with our guys. Their resolve, their fight, their attention to detail,” Martin said. “When it was win time, we took care of the ball. We didn’t turn it over and took good shots.”
NOTE: Official Anthony Jordan, who collided with point guard Ty Johnson on Jan. 15 where Johnson broke his foot, spoke to Johnson before the game and again apologized for the accident, according to 107.5 play-by-play man Andy Demetra. Johnson is in a walking boot and is scheduled to have his foot X-rayed again next week. He will not be cleared to practice until the bone is 100 percent healed.
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Odom 3-9 2-4 10, Siakam 2-4 2-2 6, Jones 6-8 4-8 16, Fuller 8-21 4-6 20, Parker 1-4 2-3 5, Kornet 0-1 0-0 0, Josephs 0-0 0-0 0, Moats 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 21-48 14-23 59.
SOUTH CAROLINA (9-15)
Carrera 3-6 0-0 6, Kacinas 2-5 1-2 5, Thornwell 6-14 6-8 19, Williams 5-11 2-2 14, Notice 4-13 1-2 10, Chatkevicius 2-6 3-5 7, McKie 0-2 0-0 0, Henry 1-4 0-2 2, Steele 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 24-64 13-21 65.
Halftime_South Carolina 28-27. 3-Point Goals_Vanderbilt 3-15 (Odom 2-6, Parker 1-3, Kornet 0-1, Fuller 0-5), South Carolina 4-13 (Williams 2-6, Notice 1-1, Thornwell 1-2, Carrera 0-1, McKie 0-1, Steele 0-2). Fouled Out_Kacinas. Rebounds_Vanderbilt 31 (Jones 10), South Carolina 45 (Kacinas 7). Assists_Vanderbilt 9 (Fuller, Odom 3), South Carolina 11 (Thornwell 6). Total Fouls_Vanderbilt 18, South Carolina 22. Attendance: 9,829.