No. 23 Vanderbilt 78, South Carolina 60
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings challenged Jeffery Taylor to shut down South Carolina freshman Bruce Ellington.
The junior essentially did just that, allowing Ellington only two of his 13 points when it mattered, and Taylor also hit a career-high four 3-pointers in scoring 17 points as No. 24 Vanderbilt routed South Carolina 78-60 on Saturday to snap a two-game skid.
Ellington scored 22 points in helping South Carolina rally from a 14-point deficit to beat Vanderbilt on Jan. 8 to open Southeastern Conference play, and Stallings told Taylor two days ago that this would be his most important defensive game for the Commodores this season.
''He was certainly up to the task,'' Stallings said.
The Commodores (16-6, 4-4) desperately needed a win to stay in the SEC East chase. After blowing that game in Columbia, and with losses to Arkansas and in overtime at Florida, they already had matched their league losses from a season ago.
''We definitely have to have a sense of urgency right now,'' Taylor said. ''We're toward the bottom of the SEC East, so every game from here on out we have to play like it's our last. Every game has a huge importance for how we want the year to end for us. We definitely have a great sense of urgency. We're going to try to go out and win every game.''
John Jenkins scored a game-high 18 points for Vanderbilt. Festus Ezeli added 17, and Brad Tinsley had 11 points and nine assists.
South Carolina (13-8, 4-4) has lost three of four, and this one ties the Gamecocks with Vanderbilt at the bottom of the Eastern Division.
''This is the first time where we felt like we've given the kind of effort and focus that we need and the other team just played really well and made shots,'' South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said. ''For us to be 4-4 and picked last to start the season, I don't think there's many people thought we'd be in this spot.
''We have to keep grinding, come back and keep getting better.''
Ramon Galloway led South Carolina with 16 points before fouling out. Malik Cooke scored 12 and Sam Muldrow had 11.
Vanderbilt outshot the Gamecocks all over the court but dominated from beyond the arc. The Commodores hit 11 of 20 from 3-point range, their most 3s against an SEC opponent this season and just two shy of the 13 they hit in beating Southeastern Louisiana in December.
Horn said they knew the Commodores had been struggling to shoot.
''They kind of had a bust out game that they've been looking for in terms of knocking down shots against us, especially in the stretch in the second half where they stretched the lead,'' Horn said.
South Carolina was 6 of 21 from 3-point range and struggled just as much from the foul line, hitting 6 of 21 free throws.
Taylor helped Vanderbilt build the lead in a nice rebound after Stallings made him come off the bench in his first missed start all season. Taylor had only seven points before fouling out at Florida, and he had hit only 10 3s in his first two seasons at Vanderbilt.
He's been shooting away from outside this year as a junior, though, and hit a career-high four 3-pointers in connecting on each of his shots from outside. But he said don't start calling him a jump shooter.
''I was feeling it today. The ball went in for me, so I just kept on shooting,'' Taylor said.
With Taylor on Ellington, the Gamecocks freshman was 4-of-17 from the floor and just 3-of-10 from 3-point range.
''I think I did a good job on him,'' Taylor said. ''He's a very quick player. He can also shoot the ball, so he presents a lot of problems for an opposing defense. I just tried my best to keep him in front and contest the shots and make today difficult for him.''
Vanderbilt led 30-23 at halftime for its first halftime lead in SEC play since Jan. 15, when the Commodores were up 30-20 at Tennessee. Rod Odom hit a 3 just before the buzzer for the biggest lead of the half for either team. Odom hit all three of his 3s for his nine points.
''That was real big,'' Stallings said.
Vandy just pushed the lead to double digits in the second half and led by as much as 22 on Taylor's fourth 3 of the game, 58-36 with 10:25 left.
Unlike the last game between these teams, the Commodores didn't let South Carolina chisel away at this lead. The Gamecocks got within 65-51 on a 3 by Ellington, but that was as close as they would get this time.