The South Carolina Gamecocks are 4-0 in the SEC.
Yes, after starting the season with an exhibition loss to Division II Augusta and defeats to such luminaries as Stony Brook and Wyoming, the Gamecocks have turned over a new leaf in 2019 and are perfect in conference play.
This latest victory came in exactly the type of mold coach Frank Martin is famous for: a tough, grind-it-out, never-give-up performance that allowed South Carolina to bag an improbable 74-71 win over Vanderbilt in an arena that has historically given them fits.
The game was a rather dull affair at first, with both teams knotted at six points apiece at the first media timeout. The action picked up in the Commodores’ favor, as Charleston native and former USC target (of course) Aaron Nesmith started canning 3-pointers. The Gamecocks didn’t help themselves with turnovers and defensive lapses, and Vanderbilt’s lead got as large as 12 points before South Carolina managed to keep it to a 39-29 deficit at the half. Throw in some torturous officiating (who doesn’t love watching foul reviews?), and the first half was a painful slog for the USC faithful.
It was more of the same in the start of the second, as the Gamecocks didn’t mount their challenge to the Commodores until around the halfway mark of the period. With Chris Silva hampered by foul trouble and eventually disqualified, freshman A.J. Lawson once again stepped up to make some huge plays down the stretch, keying a 12-2 USC run. But after a Felipe Haase 3-pointer tied the game, the Gamecocks started missing free throws, letting the Commodores off the mat and falling back into a late five-point deficit that appeared insurmountable.
And then, something of a miracle: Vanderbilt was whistled for a technical foul for taunting, giving South Carolina two foul shots and possession. Hassani Gravett sunk both, then drained a 3-pointer to tie the game again with less than a minute remaining. The Commodores responded with a bucket, but Gravett answered right back with another. The door opened for the Gamecocks when Vandy split a pair of free throws, Lawson swished both of his to put USC up by 1, and Gravett was fouled with 2.5 seconds left to cap the unlikely comeback.
Lawson led all scorers with 23 points, while Gravett added 17 and Keyshawn Bryant followed up his strong play against Missouri with 13. That South Carolina won with just two points, three rebounds, and sparse minutes from Silva is even more impressive.
The Gamecocks (9-7, 4-0 SEC) remain atop the SEC standings with third-ranked Tennessee and LSU. And speaking of the Bayou Bengals, South Carolina faces them on Saturday in Baton-Rouge. Let’s see how long we can keep this thing rolling.