South Carolina coach Darrin Horn drew the play up for his senior in the huddle, and Devan Downey executed.
To perfection. Downey came off a ball screen and hit a 3-pointer with 1:48 left to break a 69-all tie, and South Carolina upset No. 13 Vanderbilt 77-73 on Saturday in its regular season finale. South Carolina (15-15, 6-10) snapped a six-game skid with a victory that pushed the Gamecocks up to the East’s fifth seed in the upcoming Southeastern Conference tournament.
"He’s done that his whole career," Horn said. "It’s never about what somebody’s done something to him. It’s about, ‘It’s time to win,’ and he’s a young man who really relishes that moment. He made some huge plays tonight."
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Downey had just four points in the first half, but the league’s top scorer finished with 26 in rallying the Gamecocks. The senior said his teammates agreed to keep fighting.
"Right now, just playing for pride," Downey said. "We got a big win, Top 25 win on the road. We’ve just got to carry that momentum into the SEC tournament."
Vanderbilt (23-7, 12-4) already had the No. 2 seed in the East locked up before blowing a 10-point lead by going cold from the floor for 9:20. The Commodores rallied and tied it for the ninth time at 69 on Jermaine Beal’s 3-pointer.
Downey answered with his sixth 3, Beal missed his 3-pointer and also missed a layup on the next trip down the floor. South Carolina hit 2 of 4 free throws, and Downey avoided being fouled in the final seconds by passing upcourt where Stephen Spinella dunked to seal the victory.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said his Commodores became too tentative once they got control of the game and too many players didn’t show up ready to play.
"I’m not proud of it, but they’ve bounced back all season long. I don’t have any concerns. If they don’t want to play, they’ll lose," Stallings said.
Sam Muldrow added 20 points and nine rebounds for South Carolina.
Beal finished with 21 for Vandy in the senior’s final home game, A.J. Ogilvy had 15 and Jeff Taylor 13. Beal finished as the winningest four-year player in Vanderbilt history with 90 wins.
"Obviously, it’s very disappointing," Ogilvy said. "Jermaine has meant so much to us and to the program and of course we wanted to send him off with the win."
South Carolina had struggled against Vanderbilt, losing 79-69 in Columbia on Jan. 16, and the Gamecocks came to Memorial Gym having lost seven of the last eight in this series overall.
Downey, averaging a league-high 26.2 points, was the key as he bounced back from a poor first half in which he hit only 2 of 9 from the floor. He had only 11 points with 10 minutes left when he finally got going, keying a 16-0 spurt with 10 points. Downey said assistant coach Neill Berry talked to him at halftime.
"I was getting good looks but wasn’t prepared to shoot so it was more mental, me being ready to shoot," Downey said.
Stallings said he knew Downey would come back on the Commodores.
"He’ll come out and try and go crazy, and he did," Stallings said.
Just as Downey got scoring, the Commodores went cold after John Jenkins hit a 3-pointer with 12:21 to put them up 53-43 with 12:21 left.
After Beal hit two free throws, Muldrow got the Gamecocks started with a bucket, then Downey heated up. The senior hit back-to-back 3s, stole the ball and scored on a layup and also had a pair of free throws that pushed South Carolina up 64-57. Downey’s bucket with 4:10 to go pushed the lead to 68-59.
Vanderbilt finally started scoring again. Ogilvy hit a pair of free throws, then Jenkins hit a 3, ending a drought that stretched 9:20.
A sellout crowd tried to scream the Commodores to victory on a home-court where they had been 14-1 this season, but they couldn’t counter Downey. The senior threw his entire body into launching a 3 that put the Gamecocks ahead to stay for good.
Beal scored on a pair of layups that just weren’t enough as time ran out.
South Carolina wound up outshooting Vanderbilt 49.1 percent to 42.9 percent, while out-rebounding the Commodores 33-28.
Blame the early afternoon tipoff or simply sloppy play, but the teams swapped the lead seven times with five ties in the first half of a physical start — the two teams averaged more than a foul per minute early.
Four Gamecocks had at least three fouls each with 10 minutes left, while three Commodores had three apiece before the teams finished with a combined 40 fouls.