"Welcome to SEC play."
Those were the first words out of the mouth of South Carolina men's basketball coach Darrin Horn's mouth following the Gamecocks' 83-75 overtime victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores in the first conference game for each team Saturday night at the Colonial Life Arena. Sam Muldrow had the second triple-double in school history - Chuck Eidson had the first in 2002 - with 16 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 blocked shots - the last of which came in the final seconds of overtime. Bruce Ellington finished with 22 points to lead the Gamecock offense.
"The two teams fought really hard and really, really competed," Horn said. "We were very fortunate to get some key stops down the stretch and get some big plays when we needed to, especially early in overtime. I think overall, we're really proud of our guys and that we played the way that we want to play. We played with tremendous effort, energy, (and) toughness.
"Can't say enough about Sam Muldrow getting a triple-double the hard way, with blocks," Horn said. "Keep in mind he picked up his fourth foul before the four-minute (media) timeout. He had four or five blocks in those last 10 minutes. He stepped up big time."
After John Jenkins - who led all scorers with 27 points - nailed a three-pointer to give the Commodores a 63-52 lead, the Gamecocks went on a 20-9 run over the final 8:46 of regulation to send the game into overtime, where the Gamecocks ran away with it.
"We kind of got out-played, out-fought that last eight minute mark or so in the second half and the rest of the game including overtime," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "Even when we were ahead I didn't like our look and our demeanor. They played with more energy than we did. They deserved to win and they did."
Malik Cooke - who finished with 13 rebounds and eight points - got the run started with a three-pointer and tip-in off a Ramon Galloway miss. Galloway nailed a three-pointer to cut the lead to 63-57, and Ellington followed with a trey of his own to pull the Gamecocks to within three with 6:24 left in the game - the closest the game had gotten since it was 5-4. After the two teams traded baskets, things got heated up in a hurry, which seemed to just ignite the Garnet Army and Gamecock team.
Ellington was fouled by Jeffery Taylor. While Ellington was finishing off the drive his shot was blocked by Festus Ezeli with Ezeli knocking Ellington to the ground. Muldrow took exception to it and bumped Ezeli while going to help Ellington up. That set off scuffle between the two teams that was broken up by the officials and the Gamecock coaching staff.
"We've got to control them, but at the same time we've got to fight and compete," Horn said. "We want to play tough and not back down from anybody. That's what we want our program to be all about. That's what we need to give ourselves the chance to be successful at South Carolina."
On the next offensive set, Taylor rebounded an Ellington missed jumper. Muldrow was called for a foul and Taylor appeared to throw an elbow in the direction of Muldrow. The officials didn't sense intent on Taylor so nothing was called. Taylor made the first of his free throws, but missed the second. Goulbourne got the rebound and found Kyle Fuller under the basket, who was fouled hard by Muldrow - his fourth - with 4:53 left in regulation. Fuller made one of two to give the Commodores a 67-62 lead. A pair of Ellington three pointers - which gave him 15 points for the half - sandwiched around an Ezeli dunk brought the Gamecocks to within one at 69-68 and a Galloway free throw tied it for the first time all night at 69-69.
However, on the next Vanderbilt possession, Galloway fouled Jenkins attempting a three and he made all three free throws to give Vanderbilt a 72-69 lead with 2:51 left. Ellington had the answer as he calmly drilled a three-pointer in front of the Gamecock bench to tie it once again.
After Muldrow's sixth block of the game, the Gamecocks got the ball with a chance to take the lead, but Muldrow turned it over on a jump ball with 1:14 left. After Vanderbilt turned it right back over, Muldrow took an ill-advised three-pointer to give it back to the Commodores with the shot clock off. Taylor missed a long jumper that was eventually corralled by Ellington, but Ellington stepped on the baseline and 0.3 seconds were put back on the clock. Vanderbilt turned the ball over on the last play and sent the game to overtime.
The Gamecocks would quickly put the game away in overtime. After Vandy missed after winning the tip, Ellington hit a jumper to give the Gamecocks their first lead of the game. After a Muldrow block, Muldrow was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound off a Lakeem Jackson miss. Muldrow hit both free throws to give the Gamecocks a 76-72 lead. After the third straight Vandy miss, Ellingon found Cooke under the basket for a layup to give the Gamecocks a 78-72 lead. Jenkins would finally stop the bleeding with a three-pointer, but Muldrow nailed a trey to answer with 2:18 to play to all but ice the game. Jackson finished the scoring with a layup with 16 seconds left to play.
"I think (the team matured) a little bit," Horn said. "The thing that comes most with maturity and experience is understanding that things aren't going to always go just right every time, but staying committed to what you're about and what gives you a chance to be good, you can be in position to have a chance to win. I think we defended and rebounded well enough to be in that position. Once we got flowing offensively a little bit, I think our guys picked up a little more and that's pretty normal with a young team. It's evidence to them that you will have the opportunity for success if you stick with the right things."
Neither team got off to a particularly great start offensively. After Vanderbilt scored on its first two possessions, they would only make a free throw over the next five minutes. The Gamecocks would go three and a half minutes before finally getting on the board on a Jackson tough fade-away jumper.
After the first media timeout, Malik Cooke hit a pair of free throws to make it a 5-4 game, but Vandy's Lance Goulbourne ended the Vanderbilt shooting drought to give the Commodores a 7-4 lead.
After the Gamecocks fought back from a 13-6 deficit with two baskets, Vanderbilt quickly pushed the lead out to 18-10. A Jordan Smart three-pointer gave the Commodores their first double-digit lead at 25-14.
"We had a never quit attitude and approach, even when things weren't going our way offensively," Horn said. "That's what we're going to have to do to be successful in games like this to have a chance to win."
The Gamecocks would fight back again as Ellington nailed a three-pointer and followed it with a fastbreak jumper to trim the lead to six at 29-23, but Vandy would quickly stretch the lead back out. Festus Ezeli knocked down the first of two free throws and then grabbed his own rebound off the second miss, tossing it out Jenkins for a wide open three-pointer to quickly extend the lead back to double-digits at 33-23.
A Steve Tchiengang jumper gave Vandy their largest lead of the game, 37-25, with less than two minutes remaining in the half. Muldrow nailed a three-pointer as the shot clock was expiring to pull the Gamecocks to within nine, then score on a follow up with eight seconds left to trim the lead to 37-30 at the half as each team shot 13-of-29 from the field in the half.
The Gamecocks return to action Wednesday night, facing Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The Tide thumped Mississippi State, 75-57, in their conference opener today. Tip is set for 9:00 P.M. and will be broadcast on CSS and ESPN3.com.
Other SEC scores
Arkansas 68, Tennessee 65
Georgia 77, Kentucky 70
LSU 62, Auburn 55
Ole Miss vs. Florida
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