A sliver of the Music City lacked rhythm Wednesday night.
Inside Memorial Gymnasium, less than a mile off free-flowing Broadway, the South Carolina and Vanderbilt basketball teams played a game that followed a frustrating pattern of stop-start-stop-start-stop-start. Whistles, fouls and lengthy reviews made things difficult on players, coaches and fans. But between boos and complaints, a winner had to emerge.
It was South Carolina. Of course.
The Gamecocks, true to their script since the calendar flipped to 2019, pulled off another stunner with a 74-71 victory that wasn’t sealed until the final shot bounced off the rim.
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Aaron Nesmith’s 28-footer missed and USC has it first win here since 2010. Related: The Gamecocks (9-7 overall) are 4-0 in the SEC.
“I’ve liked this team from day one,” said Carolina coach Frank Martin. “They got a lot of resolve.”
USC, like it did at Florida on Jan. 5, rallied from a double-digit deficit in the second half. It was all capped with A.J. Lawson’s tying and go-ahead free throws with 23 seconds left. Hassani Gravett cemented the final score with a couple FTs 21 seconds later.
Nesmith, a Charleston native and one-time heavy Carolina target, led the Commodores with 23 points, but couldn’t be the hero. When his last attempt was long, the Gamecocks celebrated.
“How in the world did we lose that game?” said Vandy coach Bryce Drew. “That was a game we should have won. That was our game to win. The last five minutes, we just did not make the plays at the free throw line, at the defensive end, that we needed to.”
Lawson scored 24 points and Gravett added 17, all coming in the second half. The Gamecocks made their final 12 free throws.
Vandy dropped to 9-7 and 0-4 in the SEC.
USC erased a 50-38 deficit with a 19-7 run over a seven-minute, 10-second stretch. A Felipe Haase 3-pointer made it 57-all with 6:41 left. It was just Carolina’s fourth triple in 16 tries.
The Gamecocks twice had opportunities to take a lead from there, but Keyshawn Bryant missed four consecutive free throws. Vandy responded to his second empty trip with a Matt Ryan 3 that put the Commodores ahead 61-57 with 4:40 left. Another Ryan 3 pushed the Vandy edge to five with 2:11 left.
But Gravett, an early non-factor, tied things with a 3 at the 1:12 mark and a runner a possession later.
“We just stayed composed through adversity,” Gravett said. “Everybody was able to keep a level head and we kept fighting. We didn’t let up.”
The Commodores led 68-63 when a taunting Saben Lee was whistled for a technical after he blocked Gravett’s shot. From there, Carolina outscored Vandy 9-3.
“That was very costly,” Drew said.
The game featured 55 fouls. USC’s Chris Silva, who entered averaging 15.8 points and 7.8 rebounds over the previous seven games, fouled out with 3:06 left. He totaled just two points and three rebounds.
After picking up his second foul, Silva sat the final 5:32 of the first half. The Gamecocks, already less than sharp, were especially cold without their offensive focal point.
USC missed nine of its final 10 field goal attempts and went to the break down 10 points. It was an ugly period of basketball that featured 26 fouls and 15 turnovers. Carolina’s bigs — Silva included — struggled as the Commodores doubled-teamed the post area, causing a variety of miscues. Alanzo Frink, who logged nine early minutes in Silva’s absence, tossed wildly over the 6-foot-6 Lawson at the 3:53 mark.
At halftime, only three Gamecocks had made FGs — Lawson (four), Bryant (four) and Tre Campbell (one).
USC responded by shooting 50 percent in the second half.
SOUTH CAROLINA 74
Bryant 6-11 1-6 13, Silva 0-2 2-3 2, Kotsar 0-2 3-4 3, Lawson 8-14 7-8 24, Campbell 1-4 2-2 4, Haase 1-4 6-6 9, Frink 0-2 0-0 0, Gravett 5-11 4-4 17, Hinson 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 21-51 27-35 74.
Ryan 2-6 0-0 6, Nesmith 7-14 4-4 23, Shittu 4-6 5-8 13, Lee 4-7 9-16 17, Toye 0-2 0-0 0, Brown 1-4 0-0 2, Moyer 2-4 4-5 8, Wetzell 0-0 2-4 2, Evans 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-44 24-37 71.
Halftime_Vanderbilt 39-29. 3-Point Goals_South Carolina 5-18 (Gravett 3-5, Haase 1-4, Lawson 1-4, Bryant 0-1, Hinson 0-1, Frink 0-1, Campbell 0-2), Vanderbilt 7-21 (Nesmith 5-10, Ryan 2-6, Moyer 0-1, Evans 0-1, Toye 0-1, Brown 0-2). Fouled Out_Wetzell, Silva. Rebounds_South Carolina 28 (Bryant 6), Vanderbilt 25 (Wetzell 6). Assists_South Carolina 9 (Haase 3), Vanderbilt 12 (Brown 4). Total Fouls_South Carolina 29, Vanderbilt 26. Technicals_Lee. A_8,400 (14,316).
Who: South Carolina at LSU
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
TV: SEC Network