It was a hopeful sign for a Vanderbilt team that had already lost three last-possession SEC games, including the Jan. 18 overtime loss to South Carolina. In this one, playing before a hostile crowd, the Commodores were able to hold off the Gamecocks (14-13, 5-9) on the game's final play and hand them their second 1-point loss within 48 hours.
"We've had several games this year when we haven't gotten it done in those situations, but today due to preparation, and just sticking with it, we were able to get a win," said Cage.
"In some ways, this game felt like the game at our place only in reverse," said Vandy coach Kevin Stallings. "We had the game won a couple different times in Nashville and somehow found a way to not finish the job. It seemed like they had this one a couple times.
"We did a lot of things wrong and we were fortunate to win."
Vandy took a 57-54 lead on a pretty backdoor pass from Cage to Derrick Byars, and appeared for a fleeting moment to have the game in hand when Julian Terrell lobbed to a wide-open Shan Foster in the lane. But Foster missed the easy shot and lost control of the rebound, allowing the Gamecocks a final possession and a chance to win.
Trailing by 1, Dave Odom's team missed one shot but got the ball back out of bounds under its own basket with 3.2 seconds left. Only when Terrell safely fielded Tarence Kinsey's errant 18-footer at the buzzer could Vandy claim victory.
On another positive note for Vandy, Mario Moore saw action for the first time since a Feb. 4 home loss to Georgia, and showed some signs that he might be able to help the Commodores sooner rather than later. The senior point guard, who had sat out three weeks due to an unspecified medical condition, played 17 minutes in relief of starter Alex Gordon and contributed a key 3-pointer that ignited Vandy's stretch drive.
"That got us back within striking distance," Stallings said of Moore's lone 3-pointer. "He showed some signs of not having played much lately. He had some turnovers and missed plays, but that's going to happen when you've been out a couple of weeks. Hopefully we'll get him back in the swing of things."
Shan Foster finished with 11 points, and Derrick Byars tallied 10 for the victorious 'Dores. Tre Kelley led South Carolina with 13, while Kinsey, Rocky Trice and Renaldo Balkman each scored 10.
The Gamecocks roared to a 22-10 lead with 8:35 left in the first half-- but Vanderbilt got more aggressive on defense and answered with a 17-4 spurt to take a 27-26 lead. With seconds in the first half ticking down, the 'Dores had the ball, but a Vandy turnover and a quick Kelley runout gave Carolina a 28-27 lead as the buzzer sounded.
South Carolina took advantage of its strength on the glass and some sloppy play by Vanderbilt in the second half and three times stretched the lead back to nine points. Brandon Wallace's putback put the Gamecocks ahead 50-41 with 6:40 left. But instead of folding, the Commodores gathered themselves for perhaps their best comeback win of the season.
"The one thing I really like about our team is that we've faced a lot of adversity this year, and they have refused to back down and give in to it," Stallings said.
The win was Vanderbilt's first ever at the Colonial Center, and its fifth on the road this season, the most since 1996-97. At 6-8 in the SEC, the Commodores still hold out hopes of finishing .500 in the conference, with games remaining against Ole Miss and Tennessee.
"We have two very winnable games left, and we're going to try our best to take care of business," said Cage.
Sophomore Alan Metcalfe again played 16 minutes off the bench, finishing with 2 points and 2 rebounds. For the first time all season, neither Davis Nwankwo nor Ted Skuchas saw action.
Julian Terrell, who led Vandy with 5 rebounds, went over the 600-rebound mark, finishing the game with 602 for his career.
Before the game South Carolina saluted seniors Rocky Trice, Tarence Kinsey and Antoine Tisby, who were playing their final home game. "This was a very difficult loss for our team," said USC Coach Dave Odom, who had beaten Vanderbilt in 7 of 9 previous meetings.
South Carolina's Rocky Trice (10) strips Vanderbilt's Alex Gordon (3) of the ball in the second half of an NCAA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 25, 2006, in Columbia, S.C. Vanderbilt defeated South Carolina, 57-56. (AP Photo/Perry Baker)