But Saturday, before a sold-out crowd at USC's Colonial Center, the Commodores never even made it up to the front stoop. The No. 25 Gamecocks seized control early and handed Vandy an 82-75 defeat, the Commodores' 14th straight SEC road loss. Rolando Howell led the way with 17 points and 12 rebounds for USC, while Michael Boynton dropped in five 3-pointers for 15 points.
The win, the Gamecocks' 20th of the season against 5 losses, kept USC in contention in the SEC East race. The loss dropped Vanderbilt to 15-6, 4-6 in the SEC, and all but relegated the Commodores to a bottom-half finish in the division. With six conference games remaining, Vandy will almost certainly have to win at least four in order to keep its NCAA hopes alive.
The final score failed to reflect South Carolina's domination.
"We got soundly beaten and USC outplayed us," Stallings acknowledged. "They were on top of their game and the first 30 minutes they played really well. I congratulate USC because they are having a fine season."
"We came out really lethargic," said Vandy's Matt Freije, who had 16 points. "We didn't take the fight to them-- they took it to us."
Vanderbilt led 8-6 after the first four minutes of play, but some sloppy play against the Gamecock press allowed Carolina to jump out to a 32-16 lead. Vandy fought back to within seven at 39-32, but a Boynton trey ignited a 7-0 Gamecock run that put USC up 46-32 halftime. The 46 points were the second most scored by a Vandy opponent in a half this season.
"Their press is how they dictate the tempo of the game," Stallings said. "They shorten the offensive possession and they don't give up a lot of baskets. They make you take time off of the clock and they are very effective at it."
The game was all but over when South Carolina took a 60-39 advantage five minutes into the second half. Mostly behind a flurry of scoring by Mario Moore (who finished with a team high 19 points), Vandy chipped away at the lead and cut it to seven in the game's waning minutes, but never truly got within striking distance.
South Carolina and Odom have seemed to have Vandy's number the past few seasons. The win was USC's fifth straight over Vandy and Odom's sixth in seven tries over Stallings (including an NIT victory by Wake Forest over Vandy in 2000 when Odom coached the Demon Deacons). South Carolina has now swept the Commodores two straight years in the regular season.
The Commodores head back on the road Wednesday for a 7 p.m. game vs. SEC West foe Alabama at Tuscaloosa's Coleman Coliseum.
Photos by Perry Baker, Associated Press.