South Carolina hammered the offensive glass all afternoon on Thursday, and despite the snow delay foisted upon them by the regional snowstorm, ultimately ran out to a victory over Vanderbilt, 65-59.
The Gamecocks outplayed Vanderbilt in exactly one area, but it was plenty - they dominated the offensive glass. South Carolina won that battle 26-12, which played most of the role in their 64-48 advantage in attempted field goals. Thus, despite Vandy out-shooting Carolina 44-38%, the Gamecocks ultimately out-scored the Commodores because they took enough shots to overcome that deficit.
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The team story stops there mostly. The Gamecocks played a very nice defensive game, holding Vanderbilt to 1.001 points per possession, just missing the fourth time in their 11 SEC games they kept an opponent under one point per possession. With Carolina also scoring over one point per possession - and now having done so in 7 of their 11 SEC contests - it was really just a matter of time before they found a way to match up a solid offensive performance with a solid defensive one to produce a victory.
Unsurprisingly, Sindarius Thornwell, Brenton Williams, and Duane Notice led South Carolina's offensive firepower, with each playing over 35 minutes and contributing double-digit points (19, 14, and 10 respectively). They also took care of the basketball, with only 11 turnovers on the day, and each contributing at least as many assists as they did turnovers.
It was an excellent effort from the trio, and despite the grief that each gets at times - especially Notice - games like this remind you of what a nice surprise this trio has become for Carolina. We knew Brenton was good, but given the lack of bench players that can come in and replace their firepower, the outstanding performances we've seen on a regular basis from Thornwell and Notice are what have kept Carolina close in so many of these contests that have ultimately frustrated fans - without two freshmen playing massive minutes effectively, we wouldn't have close losses to complain about, but rather a series of double-digit losses.
In the most, Martin split the minutes rather evenly between four Gamecocks - starters Michael Carrera and Mindaugas Kacinas, as well as Laimonas Chatkevicius and Demetrius Henry. While none of them lit up the scoreboard (the leading post scorer was Laimonas Chatkevicius with 7), all four grabbed at least 3 offensive rebounds and at least 5 total boards.
They also kept the 'Dores front-court relatively in check, with their three big post players (Rod Odom, Damian Jones and James Siakam) combining to go 11-21 for 32 points. It's not lock-down defense, but for this Carolina team, it's good enough to get it done. Carolina also did a nice job of limiting Kyle Fuller, who scored 20 points but struggled, going 8-21 from the field and committing 3 turnovers against only 2 assists. Overall, it was a fine win against a team that's not going to be playing meaningful post-season basketball, but entered the game at .500 in SEC play. And after all the close losses they've accumulated in their first 10 SEC games, the Gamecocks finally had a few breaks go their way (Vandy's 20% 3-point shooting a prime example).
South Carolina led the entire first half and entered the half with a slim 28-27 advantage. Both teams struggled mightily to hit shots, though the Commodores ended with a respectable 11-23 mark from the field (though 0-4 from 3 and 5-10 from the line). Meanwhile, Carolina squandered their 11 extra field goal attempts of the half - created primarily through an advantage in turnovers (8-6) and offensive rebounds (13-7) - by only hitting 11 of those 34 attempts, including a 1-7 effort from 3.
In the second half, Carolina took control on the back of a 10-2 run at the midway point of the period, capped off by a Brenton Williams 3 on a possession extended by multiple offensive rebounds, including the last one from Brian Steele, which gave the Gamecocks a 51-42 lead with 9 minutes to go. Odom answered with a 3 of his own, but Michael Carrera hit a layup and the Commodores didn't close within 8 points until there was 2:51 to go, when Odom hit another 3 to close the gap to 58-52.
The teams traded wasted possessions for the next 100 seconds where someone the only point scored was a Gamecock free throw. But with 1:10 to go, Thornwell grabbed his own miss and put it back up to extend the Gamecock lead to 61-52, and Carolina rode out the last minute to grab their second SEC win of the season.
South Carolina continues its brief two-game homestand on Saturday as it hosts the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Colonial Life Arena. That game tips off at 4pm and can be watched on SEC TV.
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