Last week, I gave some keys for the Gamecocks to have a successful SEC run. Here is how they performed in Saturday’s 83-75 overtime win over No. 22 Vanderbilt:
Improve rebounding: Check. USC’s 44 boards were 10 more than the team’s average in the past seven games. The Gamecocks have outrebounded 10 of 14 opponents this season.
Improve their shooting percentages: Check minus. USC shot 44 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3 – slightly higher than its season averages.
Keep teams under 40 percent shooting: Check. Vandy shot 39.1 percent – the 10th team held to 40 percent or less.
Big Sam needs to show up: Check yeah. Muldrow got the school’s second-ever triple-double, while taking an MMA-style pounding from Vandy’s centers. It was perhaps the biggest game of the forward’s college career.
Ellington needs reduce turnovers and his improve shooting: Check/Check-kinda. Bruce has two turnovers, which gives the point guard a total of four in the past three games after averaging nearly four a game to start the season. The point guard went 38 percent – same as his season average – but made half of his shots from 3-point range. That works.
Beat East Division foes expected to make NCAAs: One down.
Earn a winning record in the easier first half of conference schedule: It’s a start.
Here are other observations from the upset of Vandy:
Second look: Another key stat to consider for a successful SEC season by the Gamecocks: second-chance points. USC dominated Vandy in second-chance points 24-13 – going 18-7 in the second half and overtime. The Gamecocks grabbed 15 offensive boards in the last 25 minutes to the Commodores’ seven.
One tough cook: Malik Cooke, whom Vandy coach Kevin Stallings called the game changer, asserted himself again as the team’s power forward. The junior came off the bench to play 35 minutes while collecting eight points and a career-high 13 boards. Starter Damontre Harris got four points and three rebounds in 17 minutes. Plus, Cooke is becoming the team enforcer, getting in the face of Vandy guard Jeffery Taylor after a hard foul on Ellington in the second half. The transfer from Nevada received a technical in the win against Wofford while sticking up for guard Ramon Galloway.
Not so rich: Brian Richardson failed to score for the first time while playing a career-low nine minutes on Saturday. He collected two quick fouls in the opening four minutes, both while getting beaten in drives to the basket, forcing him to sit and get out of the flow of the game. The freshman sharpshooter missed his only two 3-point attempts a game after scoring a career-high 17 points to end a recent slump.
Trying treys: Besides Ellington’s 6-for-12 effort from the 3-point arc, teammates did not have much success trying to make up for the absence Richardson’s long-range shooting. Muldrow made two 3-pointers on a career-high seven attempts. Galloway shot 1-for-5 after missing all four of his attempts against S.C. State on Tuesday. The surprise was forward Lakeem Jackson scoring his fourth 3-pointer of his career in his only attempt Saturday.
Seeing double: Jackson has scored 14.7 points in the past three games nearly five points above his season average. He's shot 58 percent in that stretch and is the only regular starter averaging above 50 percent from the field this season. Jackson also has averaged four assists in his past three games after getting about two a game in his career.
Mo' shooting: Galloway has shot 30 percent from the field -- 25 percent from 3-points -- in his past three games, well below his season averages. But because he's put up the second-most shots on the team in that stretch, the sophomore has averaged 11.3 points -- slightly better than his season mark.
Put me in: Freshman guard Eric Smith played a total seven minutes against four major-conference foes this season -- and didn’t get in the game for two of them. With Richardson’s foul problems against Vanderbilt, the freshman from Mullins played 12 quality minutes -- sometimes sharing the court with the man he usually replaces, Ellington. USC held its ground while Smith was on court, not letting Vandy extend its lead. And his long-range jumper after Jackson’s 3 in the second half was part of the spark to USC’s comeback from a 14-point deficit. This is the way to earn more time in the rotation.
Extra extra: Head coach Darrin Horn is 3-1 in overtime at USC and 2-0 this year.