On a day when Kentucky lost to LSU and when Tennessee and Florida would square off the next day, South Carolina had a perfect opportunity to solidify their hold on first place in the East with a win over struggling Vanderbilt. However, it was not to be, as the Commodores rode a hot shooting hand to a convincing 96-83 victory. Kudos to Vandy on this win; they came out fired up and defended their home court admirably. As expected, we didn't have an answer for A. J. Ogilvy in the paint. The big Aussie scored 28 points on an incredible 12-15 from the field. Devan Downey led the Gamecocks with 24.
As some folks observed in the open thread, this was a strange game. We had a whopping 31 more field goal attempts than Vandy, we won the turnover margin by 12, and we won the battle on the offensive boards by six. Usually when you play like that, you win big; however, we lost, and not only did we lose, but we lost by a relatively large margin. How did it happen? Well, Vandy first of all shot 62% from the field and 50% from three; our numbers didn't even approach that clip. We can account for the three-point percentage by recognizing that Vanderbilt was shooting well. While I thought we could have provided better perimeter defense at times, sometimes you just come across a team that's hot and there's not much you can do about it. However, the overall field-goal percentage illustrates the fact that we played poor defense in the post. While it's hard for a smaller team like us to guard a monster like Ogilvy, I thought we could have fought harder to contest entry passes and close shots. Of course, the lack of physical play points to another prominent element in this game: we were called for 25 fouls to Vandy's 14 and Vandy had 24 more free throw attempts than we did. I don't like to point fingers at the refs, but Vandy clearly enjoyed a home court advantage courtesy of the zebras in this one, and they enjoyed it from the very beginning. In one prominent segment early on, an official refused to call a foul when one of our guys was tackled by a Vandy defender, and Darrin Horn was promptly called for a technical when he contested the obviously blown call. While Vandy got away with that kind of play, we were often called for petty touch fouls. That kind of officiating bias discouraged our guys from playing a more physical game, which led to Vandy having their way with us down low. Unfortunately, these things happen on the road sometimes; we've enjoyed favorable officiating at home a couple of times ourselves, so it's hard to get too upset about it. Sometimes you have to play through it, and we failed to do that.
This loss means that we no longer control our own destiny to number one. The winner of the Florida-Tennessee tilt in Gainesville will be tied with us, and wihle we get the Vols at home on Thursday, we don't play the Gators. That means that if Florida and South Carolina win out from here, we'll finish tied for first. That being the case, I say we cheer for Tennessee to win today. I can't say I like their chances in front of the Rowdy Reptiles, though. In terms of our NCAAs chances, this loss means that we really need to win out to feel comfortable about our chances heading into the SEC Tournament. If we lose a game this week, we'll probably need to win one in the tournament to get into the NCAAs. Upsets are the rule more than the exception in the tournament, so I won't feel comfortable needing to win one there, even if we play a softie like Arkansas or UGA. That being the case, I'd really like to see us win out. First up will be the aforementioned Vols. Tennessee is a team whose athletic backcourt and sizable frontcourt present significant matchup problems for us, but they're also a team that has played erratically down the stretch and that we played well in a close loss earlier in the season in Nashville. The game will be on ESPN, so it's a real chance to shine in front of the nation. Needless to say, a win would be huge.