USC nips Vandy 73-70 on Senior Day

A fiercely competitive team like No. 22 Vanderbilt (20-9, 9-7) doesn't take losses lightly, and a Senior Day 73-70 heartbreaker to South Carolina was especially hard. Four years in Memorial Gym for senior guards Ashlee Bridge, Lauren Lueders, Merideth Marsh and Jessica Mooney came to a painful end when a 9-point lead evaporated, and with it, the chance for a bye at this week's SEC Tournament.

Finishing with six 3-pointers and 27 points, 1 point shy of a career high, Merideth led the charge to win this one, and had a chance to extend the game into overtime.

"I got a good look and it felt good, but it's just upsetting that a game like this, we didn't fight back and that's what it had to come down to: one shot…on Senior Day. We were in that position and what got us there was their outworking us and outhustled us. We didn't bounce back."

South Carolina (14-14, 7-9), which trailed 32-29 at the half, sank four three-pointers and hit 8 of 12 free throws in the final 20 minutes to upset the Commodores. The Gamecocks had 19 offensive rebounds and 19 second chance points to Vandy's 11 offensive boards and 5 second chance points.

Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb chalked the loss up to miscues on both sides of the court. "We were in the right place, but didn't take anything away. We weren't aggressive enough. We missed opportunities on both ends of the floor to put it away. We didn't execute. We didn't do what we needed to do."

At 14:02 to go, Vandy led by 9 points. With 5:56 remaining, South Carolina was up by 7 points and Vandy turned on the heat. A pair of 3-pointers by Merideth Marsh and a layup and free throw by Hannah Tuomi put Vandy up by one at 1:29 before USC tied at 68-all. A Jence Rhoads' layup cut a lead built on free throws to 70-71. Another pair of Gamecock free throws put them ahead 73-70, and Merideth's potential game-tying 3-ball was off the mark.

Hannah, who played 21 minutes with early foul trouble, ended with 12 points and 5 rebounds. Jence finished with 9 points and 9 assists and Tiffany Clarke had 10 points and 5 boards.

"Hannah was playing well tonight and they were having trouble guarding us inside," Coach Balcomb said. "It hurt to have her out that long." The coach added that the seniors have a lot to be proud of when looking back at their careers. "It's hard when you have seniors who have had good wins here, but they're tremendous people and players, and you have to think about all the good things. They've had tremendous careers. We didn't finish plays and we didn't finish this season the way we wanted it."

Lauren Lueders, emotionally charged from Hannah's layup and go-ahead free throw seconds before the loss, took the defeat particularly hard. "Lauren has played out of position and started at guard and played post when players went down," the head coach said. "She's in a guard's body and playing post, guarding someone like (6-5 Kelsey) Bone. No one cares like Lauren does and her emotions showed tonight."

Jessica Mooney was also stunned with the loss, but is ready to play four games in four days to defend the ‘Dores' SEC championship: "I'm in disbelief that we lost this game. Give South Carolina credit. They came out ready to play and we didn't execute our game plan. We can use this as motivation to come out and play. If we come out and play in the tournament and play like we did today, we're losing in the first round. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise."

Speaking about heart, a determined Merideth said Vandy has the courage and desire to win. "For any team, whether it's the #1 team or the worst team, it's mental and physical toughness to win four games in four days. Once again, it's a challenge and we're up for it. I hope we can look at this game as our season is not over and it depends on how we're going to end the season. It's up to us and no one can take it from us unless we let them. We have the heart to do it, so I'm excited about it."





Hannah Tuomi swarms USC 6-5 center Kelsey Bone.



Tiffany Clarke readies for a layup against South Carolina defenders.



Jence Rhoads plays power ball in a layup.




Rebecca Silinski goes up for a bucket.



Hannah Tuomi, Lauren Lueders and Elan Brown celebrate a game-tying layup.



Families and players enjoyed the emotional post-game festivities and photo ops.



Ashlee Bridge takes her turn answering questions.



Merideth Marsh waves a final goodbye toward the Memorial Gym crowd.

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