Jason Cudd was feeling the moment. The little-used freshman center didn’t care about his lack of career achievement Saturday when he ran back on defense, waving his arms wildly, asking the Colonial Life Arena crowd to get on his level.
South Carolina’s sparkplug in a 71-60 win against Vanderbilt was a 7-footer seeing his first real minutes of SEC action. The Gamecocks couldn’t afford another stumble to begin conference play, so coach Frank Martin was pulling out all the stops.
Evan Hinson, a tight end for Will Muschamp’s team, started at shooting guard. Frank Booker, Martin’s best shooter, came off the bench. And then there was Cudd, an afterthought for the majority of this season’s first two months, out there with a dunk, a block, an assist and a bundle of energy.
It was an unusual formula for winning, but then again this is quickly turning into an unusual season.
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USC is now 10-5 (1-2 SEC) and avoided its first 0-3 start in conference play in four years. Vandy dropped to 6-9 and 1-2 in the league.
“The last two days, we did nothing offensively,” Martin said, referring to Carolina’s practices following an uninspiring loss to Missouri. “We worked on our defense, on our difficulties to guard.
“And then we spent a lot of time in trying to rekindle the spirit this team had in early December. Since the loss to Clemson, our spirit’s been hurt. We have to figure out a way to go find that spirit again. We played with some of that enthusiasm again. Hopefully, we can build on this today.”
Carolina wasn’t perfect – it missed its final nine shots of the first half and had a forgetful performance at the free throw line (64 percent) – but it got a needed home victory in a challenging league. It next travels to Alabama on Tuesday.
After being down 28-26 at halftime, the Gamecocks went up with a Chris Silva dunk at the 17:46 mark of the second half and never trailed again.
Silva led all scorers with a career-high 27 points. Wes Myers, again playing in place of an injured Hassani Gravett, added 17, all coming in the final 20 minutes.
“I thought we played real well in the second half,” Martin said. “But that doubt that we’ve had in our heads for the last three, four weeks prevented us from kind of separating. We missed free throws, we missed dinks, we’d make a little breakdown defensively … but we figured out a way to make enough plays to win. So, hopefully, this helps us there.”
Cudd, appearing in just his ninth game, logged a season-high 15 minutes. He scored three points, had three rebounds, made one block and one assist.
Hinson, a sophomore who was with the football Gamecocks in Tampa on Jan. 1, scored six points and grabbed two rebounds in 13 minutes.
Myers said Cudd’s energy “changed the game.”
Martin said Hinson helped the Gamecocks form their identity again.
“He’s been smashing for the month of December,” Martin said. “And to get off a plane and want to come here and smash with us and play with that enthusiasm and toughness, I was putting him in the lineup. I wasn’t taking a shot at Booker, singling him out, that’s not what was happening. I had to put (Hinson) in.”
USC held Vandy to 35 percent shooting. The Gamecocks were plus-seven on the glass and forced 19 turnovers.
“After South Carolina’s game a couple nights ago,” said Vandy coach Bryce Drew, “we knew that this would be a totally different team.”
SOUTH CAROLINA 71, VANDERILT 60
VANDERBILT (6-9): Brown 0-3 0-1 0, Roberson 2-6 4-6 9, Lee 6-11 2-4 17, LaChance 1-5 0-0 3, Evans 1-4 2-2 5, Baptiste 3-7 4-5 10, Austin 0-0 0-0 0, Willis 2-6 0-0 4, Fisher-Davis 4-11 2-2 12, Toye 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-54 14-20 60.
SOUTH CAROLINA (10-5): Kotsar 1-2 0-0 2, Minaya 2-7 1-3 6, Silva 9-15 9-12 27, Myers 4-5 8-12 17, Hinson 2-4 2-2 6, Haase 1-8 0-0 3, Cudd 1-2 1-2 3, Booker 0-4 4-7 4, Beatty 1-7 0-1 3. Totals 21-54 25-39 71.
Halftime: Vanderbilt 28-26. 3-Point Goals: Vanderbilt 8-29 (Lee 3-5, Fisher-Davis 2-6, Evans 1-3, LaChance 1-5, Roberson 1-5, Brown 0-2, Willis 0-3), South Carolina 4-14 (Myers 1-1, Beatty 1-2, Minaya 1-3, Haase 1-6, Hinson 0-2). Fouled Out: Lee, Baptiste, LaChance. Rebounds: Vanderbilt 33 (Roberson 9), South Carolina 36 (Silva 8). Assists: Vanderbilt 10 (Roberson 3), South Carolina 8 (Haase 2). Total Fouls: Vanderbilt 32, South Carolina 17. Technicals: Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew.