Vanderbilt shoots down Gamecocks' sweep bid

NASHVILLE—Junior Jeffery Taylor scored 17 points and pulled down eight rebounds to help Vanderbilt return to .500 in Southeastern Conference play at the midpoint of the conference schedule with a 78-60 victory over South Carolina on Saturday afternoon in Memorial Gymnasium.

Taylor added a season-high three blocks and played a critical role in neutralizing freshman point guard Bruce Ellington, the Gamecocks' leading scorer who finished with just 13 points on 4-for-17 shooting from the field. Ellington scored 22 in the teams' first meeting this season on January 8th, an 83-75 South Carolina victory in overtime.

"I thought the key to the game was Jeff Taylor's defensive job on Ellington," Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said. "Ellington is such a good player, and I though Jeff really was phenomenal on him."

Taylor responded at the other end of the floor with a return to form after two straight underwhelming offensive performances against Arkansas and Florida, shooting a perfect 4-for-4 from three-point range and grabbing a season high of seven offensive rebounds. The Commodores are now 7-1 this season when Taylor scores 17 points or more.

"I was feeling it today," Taylor said. "The ball went in for me, so I just kept on shooting."

Taylor scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half, hitting his final three with 10:26 remaining to cap off a 10-point run and give Vanderbilt its largest lead of the game at 22 points. The Commodores led by double digits from the 14:54 mark of the second half onward, using their success on the offensive end to demand a level of offensive efficiency in response that the free-shooting Gamecocks could not meet.

While Ellington struggled to get free, sophomore guard Ramon Galloway stepped up with nine points on 4-of-10 shooting to keep the Gamecocks close in the first half, including a five-point individual run less than eight minutes in that gave South Carolina its largest lead of the game at 13-9. Galloway finished with a team-high 16 points despite fouling out with 5:54 remaining in the game.

Under a month ago in Columbia, Ellington and Galloway had gotten hot and combined to put up 34 points in 71 minutes of playing time, but on Saturday, John Jenkins and Brad Tinsley stepped forward to ensure that it would be the Vanderbilt guards setting the scoring pace on this meeting. Jenkins led all scorers with 18 points, and Tinsley added 13 along with nine assists.

Vanderbilt pulled away in the final minutes before the break with a late flurry punctuated by freshman forward Rod Odom's three-pointer with time winding down in the half off of a pass from Tinsley that brought the lead out to seven.

"I was just trying to run the play," Odom said. "I knew I was supposed to come up on his side, and I knew if Brad found me I was just going to try to step in and knock it down. Luckily, he found me."

Odom hit two more three-point attempts in the second half and finished with nine points. The Commodores shot 55% from behind the arc, while the Gamecocks finished at only 28.6% after hitting 10 threes in the teams' first meeting in Columbia.

"When you have guys like [Taylor and John Jenkins] it definitely creates more opportunities for me because the defense is focusing on finding John and finding Jeff" said Odom. "That gives me a lot of open looks, and I just try to knock them down."

Sam Muldrow, whose triple-double played a key role in the South Carolina victory in January, finished with 11 points and seven rebounds and was far from the dominant presence he was a month ago as Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang stepped up their physicality down low.

"They did a good job trying to keep him off the glass, for sure," South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn said of Muldrow. "Obviously he's not going to play as well as he did the first game — hard to top a triple-double. I think their inside guys did a good job, Ezeli is such a huge body and an inside presence for them."

The Commodores welcome the SEC-leading Alabama Crimson Tide into Nashville Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. CT.

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