After being down double-digits early in the second half, the South Carolina men’s basketball team locked in defensively to earn themselves a 70-61 victory over Vanderbilt on Wednesday night.
The game started off as a physical back and forth match that saw Vanderbilt hold a four-point halftime lead. To start the second half, the Commodores came out with energy, widening its lead.
South Carolina quickly adjusted and started running a zone press. The zone allowed the team to play aggressively and caused problems for Vanderbilt offensively.
The Gamecock defense forced 11 turnovers in the second half. South Carolina managed to turn these Vanderbilt mistakes into quick offense in transition, totaling 13 fast-break points for the game.
“The zone really helped us, I thought the zone changed how they were playing offensively,” head coach Frank Martin said. “Most of their turnovers came against our zone, which allowed us to run and allowed us to be aggressive in the open court.”
This level of play sparked a 21-6 run for South Carolina that lasted over five minutes during the middle of the half. From there, the team held its lead and walked away winners.
Another contributing factor to South Carolina’s victory was rebounding.
The Gamecocks owned the glass, especially in the second half. South Carolina out-rebounded Vanderbilt 41-29 for the game.
South Carolina looked for more second-chance opportunities in the second half, grabbing 14 of their 15 offensive rebounds after halftime. The Gamecocks were able to turn those offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points.
“Give those guys credit in the second half, they got on the glass and gave us a presence at the rim,” Martin said. “Coming up with that extra effort offensive rebound, not accepting getting boxed out, whatever a deflating play is, that is the polar opposite, that kinda gets everyone going, it was fun to watch.”
Graduate student guard James Reese and Vanderbilt’s Scottie Pippen, Jr. carried the scoring load for their respective teams. Reese had 19 points and two rebounds, while Pippen had 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists. They traded blows all night and did what they could to give their team the advantage.
Senior guard Erik Stevenson was a difference-maker for the Gamecocks. He hit clutch shots late in the game and helped spark the big second half run. He ended the game with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.
It was a quiet night for South Carolina’s junior forward Keyshawn Bryant. Despite this, Reese said the team knows that when Bryant, or any other has an off night, it just means someone else will need to step up.
“That’s why we rely on our teammates," Reese said. “I plays bad, Erik steps up; Key plays bad, Jermaine steps up — and vice-versa with everybody on the team.”
The Gamecocks have now won back-to-back games for the first time since mid-December. They will try and ride this momentum into a tough stretch of games, which will see the team play two ranked teams in the next four games.
This win moves the Gamecocks within one game of a .500 record in the SEC. The team is currently 12-7 overall and 3-4 in the SEC.
South Carolina’s next game will come on the road when it travels to play Texas A&M Saturday, Jan. 29 at 8:30 p.m.