NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Vanderbilt stole a page out of South Carolina’s formula for success to upset the Gamecocks.
South Carolina is one of the nation’s top defensive teams, but the Commodores held the No. 21 Gamecocks without a field goal for more than nine minutes at the end of Vanderbilt’s 71-62 win on Saturday night.
”We just wanted to be the aggressor,” Commodores guard Nolan Cressler said. ”We actually kind of beat them at their own game tonight by outrebounding them and getting more points off turnovers than they did.”
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The advantage in rebounding (36-33) and points off turnovers (14-12) was small, but it was enough to knock off a Top 25 team in a close game.
Matthew Fisher-Davis came off the bench to score 17 points and Riley LaChance added 14 for Vanderbilt (14-13, 7-7 SEC).
The lead changed hands nine times during a frantic second half before the Commodores took the lead for good when Fisher-Davis’ foul shot gave Vanderbilt a 55-54 advantage with 7:55 left.
The Commodores led by one point with 4:27 left when a 7-0 surge helped them pull away in front of a noisy crowd of 10,471 at Memorial Gym.
”South Carolina is a Top 25 team and plays some of the best defense in the country, and our guys really did a good job of moving the ball and being able to get defensive stops when we needed it,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. ”Clevon (Brown) had three sensational blocks.”
Sindarius Thornwell led the slumping Gamecocks (20-7, 10-4) with 21 points and grabbed six rebounds.
”We really locked in,” LaChance said. ”We did a good job of shutting down Thornwell toward the end. Luke (Kornet) and D’Jery (Baptiste) had great, great, great protection at the rim.”
South Carolina, seeking its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2004, lost for the third time in four games.
”I think it’s us,” Thornwell said. ”We’re just not who we’ve been all year. We’re losing some close games. We’re not getting blown out. Those are mental mistakes when you lose close ones.”
Cressler scored 13 points for the Commodores, who hit nine shots from beyond the arc against the nation’s top 3-point defensive team.
South Carolina went 1 for 9 from 3-point range.
”We just can’t make a 3, can’t make free throws and in the second half we couldn’t defend,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. ”Vanderbilt’s got a group of guys that have been through it and I think they’re playing real well now.”
P.J. Dozier added 15 points and Chris Silva scored 14 for the Gamecocks. Dozier went 0 for 5 at the foul line.
South Carolina took a 30-27 halftime lead as the teams stayed within four points of each other the first 20 minutes.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks are third in the SEC standings, two games behind Florida and Kentucky. Each team has one game left against the other before the regular season ends. South Carolina is trying for its first conference title in 20 years and second overall. The Gamecocks have four games remaining.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores are tied for sixth with Ole Miss and Tennessee in the SEC.
UNDER THE RADAR
Martin believes three SEC facts have gone unnoticed this season:
”We play the hardest non-conference schedule,” Martin said. ”We play the most Top 25 teams in non-conference play of any Power Five league in the county.
”We play the most games away from home of any Power Five teams in the country and we’re the youngest league in the country, barring any high major or low major.”
Vanderbilt wore Black History Month uniforms to honor 21 of Nashville’s leading civil rights figures in the Commodores’ Equality Weekend game.
The honorees included Ed Temple, John Seigenthaler and Perry Wallace.
Temple coached Tennessee State’s women’s track and field team to 34 national titles and coached the U.S. Olympic women’s team in 1960 and 1964.
Seigenthaler was a Tennessean editor and publisher and U.S. Justice Department administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Seigenthaler was chief negotiator with the Alabama governor during the Freedom Rides in 1961.
Former Commodores Wallace and Godfrey Dillard were the first African-American basketball players in the Southeastern Conference in 1966.
South Carolina visits Florida in a crucial battle for the SEC title on Tuesday.
Vanderbilt travels to Tennessee on Wednesday after falling to the Volunteers 87-75 on Jan. 14.