Vanderbilt-South Carolina Preview

BY foxsports • January 8, 2016

South Carolina would love to continue its run as one of only two remaining unbeatens, but it has narrowed its focus to simply starting out strong in conference play.

Seeking their first 2-0 SEC start in six years, the 22nd-ranked Gamecocks try to extend their best overall start in eight decades Saturday when they host reeling Vanderbilt.

South Carolina (14-0) and SMU were left as the nation's lone undefeated teams following Oklahoma's 109-106 triple-overtime loss at Kansas on Monday.

The Gamecocks took care of their business Tuesday with an 81-69 win at Auburn in the SEC opener. Sindarius Thornwell led the way with a season-high 22 points while hitting 5 of 8 from 3-point range to go along with seven assists and three steals.

The junior guard, one of three Gamecocks averaging 12 points, has put up a combined 40 over his last two games. He's now just nine points away from reaching 1,000 for his career.

"It's big for us to start out (SEC play) with a win," Thornwell said. "For us to win (heading) into Saturday, gives us a lot of confidence going into the rest of our games."

South Carolina ranks third among SEC teams with 81 points per game while holding opponents to 37.8 percent shooting. The team has forced an average of 19.3 turnovers over its last three after scoring 28 off the Tigers' 21 giveaways.

The Gamecocks are off to their best start since opening 17-0 in 1933-34. It's also earned them their highest AP ranking since they moved all the way up to fifth in 1998.

South Carolina now has an opportunity to win its first two conference games for the first time since the 2009-10 season by dealing Vanderbilt its first 0-3 start since '12-13.

The Commodores (8-6, 0-2) were 16th in the poll after a 5-1 start, but have since fallen out while losing five of their last seven games. They could have a difficult time against South Carolina after committing 17 turnovers in a 90-82 home loss to LSU last Saturday and a season-high 26 in Tuesday's 90-85 overtime defeat at Arkansas.

Damian Jones matched career highs with 24 points and 15 rebounds against the Razorbacks. Matthew Fisher-Davis, who leads the SEC with a 49.3 3-point percentage, finished with a career-high 20 points while making 4 of 8 from beyond the arc.

Luke Kornet had 11 points after missing the previous five games with a knee injury.

"We have a good effort and didn't take care of the ball well," coach Kevin Stallings said. "It was certainly nice to have Luke Kornet back and Damian gave us good effort."

Stallings' squad has scuffled defensively, sending opponents to the free-throw line an average of 30.3 times in the past four games. That certainly doesn't bode well facing aggressive South Carolina, which has gone to the stripe 121 times over its last three.

The Commodores have won six of the past seven games against the Gamecocks, though their only loss during that stretch came in the most recent meeting in Columbia. Thornwell led the charge with 19 points in South Carolina's 65-59 victory on Feb. 13, 2014.

Riley LaChance scored 19 in Vanderbilt's 65-50 win in the only matchup last season.

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