And hey, something else happened here on this wet night in Columbia that hadn't happened in 364 days-- the Commodores won an SEC game on the road! Vanderbilt parlayed a suffocating defensive effort into a surprising 60-51 win over Dave Odom's Gamecocks, and improved its SEC record to 2-3. It was Vandy's first SEC road victory since January 20, 2001.
It was easily Vanderbilt's finest defensive effort of the season. How good was it?
Vandy held a veteran, physical Gamecock team to only 3 points in the game's first 13 minutes, and to 36.5% shooting for the game. Vandy never trailed, and held USC to 51 points-- the lowest point total for a Commodore opponent since Mississippi State had 39 in 1993. (Seems like a guy named Fogler was coach that year too.)
Suddenly, with a two-game win streak, the rest of the season seems much more salvageable. Incredibly, this unanticipated win, coupled with Florida's loss to Georgia earlier today, puts Vanderbilt only 2 games out of first place in the rugged SEC East.
There were plenty of heroes. Sophomore forward Matt Freije led Vandy in both scoring and rebounds with 13 and 8, respectively. Chuck Moore added 11 points and, perhaps more importantly, held South Carolina's dangerous Jamel Bradley to 13. Brendan Plavich was Vandy's only other scorer in double figures, with 10.
Freshman Jason Holwerda, getting his second straight start, got a career high with 9 points, while Brian Thornton added 8 in a strong offensive effort in the second half. The Gamecocks were led in scoring by Aaron Lucas, who had 20.
You figured that with two patient teams playing very deliberate offenses, this game would be a low-scoring affair-- but few would have guessed this low-scoring. The Commodores, full-court pressed much of the night by South Carolina, committed 17 turnovers and were erratic at times on offense, but made up for it with outstanding defense and good effort on the boards (both teams had 29 rebounds).
The first half was a tale of two runs. Vanderbilt opened in a smothering man-to-man and forced the Gamecocks into a somewhat embarrassing series of turnovers and missed shots. Carolina managed only 3 points (on a single Jamel Bradley 3-pointer) in the first 13 minutes of play, and Vandy jumped out to a 19-3 lead with 7:10 left. The partisan crowd began to let its disgruntlement with the home team show.
At that point South Carolina football coach Lou Holtz appeared near the scorer's table, and the momentum took a noticeable shift. Dave Odom's troops began zone pressing the Commodores and held them to 4 points in the half's final 7:00. A 16-4 run by the Gamecocks narrowed the deficit at the break to a much more manageable 23-19. (19 points is the lowest amount by any Commodore opponent in a half this year.)
The Commodores turned up the defense once again in the second half, and opened with a 10-0 run. Sparked on offense by Freije and Thornton, the Commodores scored 15 of the half's first 21 points to gain their biggest lead of the game at 38-19 with 15:20 to play.
The Gamecocks again began to chip away at the lead, cutting the score to 41-32 on a breakaway basket by Bradley. With just under 4:00 left, the Gamecocks had cut the lead to 50-45 on a steal and a basket by Michael Boynton, and suddenly the game was very much in doubt.
Then came the turning point-- Chuck Moore took the Gamecocks' Michael Boynton baseline, scored and drew a foul. Moore hit the free throw, and minutes later hit two more to make the score 55-45-- and the lead was never again less than 8 points. If not for a Lucas 3-pointer with 2 seconds left, USC would not have exceeded 50 points.
Freshman Corey Smith got his first start as a Commodore, and Stallings started two other freshmen (Thornton and Holwerda). Freshman center David Przybyszewski, who had started 12 games and averaged 21 minutes, played only 12 minutes due to an injured foot and appeared to be in some pain. Senior Sam Howard, still recovering from an injury suffered in practice this past week, played 15 minutes and scored one 3-pointer.
The Commodores (12-6, 2-3 SEC) now take a week off before hosting Georgia Saturday at 2:00 p.m. in a Jefferson-Pilot TV game. South Carolina (11-6, 1-3) travels to Knoxville on Wednesday for a game against Tennessee.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings and players Scott Hundley (24), David Przybyszewski (13), Jason Holwerda (3) and Corey Smith (44) cheer their team on to a 60-51 victory over South Carolina, Saturday night, Jan. 19, 2002, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Lou Krasky)
Vanderbilt's Brendan Plavich (5) drives past South Carolina's Rolando Howell in the first half Saturday, Jan. 19, 2002, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Lou Krasky)
South Carolina's Jamel Bradley (10) looks to pass as Vanderbilt's Chuck Moore defends during the first half Saturday night, Jan. 19, 2002, at Carolina Coliseum in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Lou Krasky)