Vanderbilt watched a 14-point lead slip away, then couldn't hit shots in overtime, as an underdog South Carolina team starting three freshmen upset the No. 24 Commodores by an 83-75 score on Saturday afternoon in Columbia, S.C.
Gamecock freshman Bruce Ellington, doing his best Devan Downey impersonation in the first Southeastern Conference game for both teams, helped Carolina chip away at a VU lead throughout the second half with five 3-pointers after halftime.
On the other end of the floor, the Commodores' inside game was held hostage by senior Sam Muldrow, who pulled off an improbable triple-double with 16 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.
Seven of Muldrow's rebounds were on the offensive end, as Carolina pulled 18 offensive boards as part of an overall 48-41 rebounding edge.
"[South Carolina] became the aggressors, and started dominating the boards on both ends, and that turned the game for them," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "Lance [Goulbourne] is the only guy we had that really rebounded, and they just become complete aggressors and started making shots from the outside, and got their confidence up.
"And then, we just kind of wilted going down the stretch."
The veteran Commodores appeared to be well in control of the game after Brad Tinsley jumper put VU up 50-36 with 13:57 to play. But Carolina slowly eroded the lead, and started to make things interesting when Ellington hit a 3 with 9:46 left to cut the margin to 52-46.
He hit another at the 6:23 mark to pull the 'Cocks within three, then rattled in another one that hit the backboard and the rim with 3:49 left to pull Carolina within a point.
"I wasn't crazy about our look, about everything going on with us when we were ahead," Stallings said. "We asked for more energy, and I don't know… what it was. Even at halftime when we were up seven, we were trying to get more energy out of them, and it never came."
Carolina never took the lead in regulation, but VU was never able to pull away due to a combination of not being able to make a shot in the final 4:17 of the second half.
USC finally tied the game on Ramon Galloway's free throw with 2:51 left, but John Jenkins, who scored a game-high 27, hit three foul shots to put VU back ahead.
Ellington's 3 with 2:11 left tied it again, but VU failed to convert anything. Taylor got into the lane with 49 seconds left with the game still tied, but fumbled away an apparent point-blank pass attempt to Festus Ezeli in the paint.
After Muldrow missed a 3, Taylor's 17-footer with three seconds left hit the front rim and back rim, and the game went to overtime.
Ellington opened overtime with a field goal, and Carolina never trailed. VU's only points of the overtime came off a 3 from Jenkins with 2:55 left.
VU led 37-30 at half, with Jenkins leading all scorers with 13.
Each team hit 13-of-29 shots in the first half. The difference came at foul line; VU 8-10 and SC 2-3.
VU held Ellington to five points on seven shots before the break, but Muldrow had nine points and eight boards, including three on the offensive end.
Ellington finished with 22 for the game.
"We're capable of making people look like All-Americans. My teams have a history of doing that," Stallings said.
Vanderbilt's conference home opener happens on Wednesday, when Georgia comes to Nashville for a 7 p.m. tipoff. The Bulldogs upset Kentucky in Athens earlier in the day.
"We've got to play a more complete game. We've got to be better on defense, we've got to be better on the boards, we've got to be better on offense. We've got to get better play out of everybody, really. That wasn't good enough," Stallings said.