Vanderbilt beat South Carolina 59-48 to improve to 20-8 on the season. VandySports.com's Chris Lee and Jesse Johnson have all the key details from Wednesday's win.
With 8:10 left, Vanderbilt clung to a 41-38 lead over a South Carolina team it had not been able to shake all evening, and that's when Festus Ezeli took over.
Ezeli hit two foul shots with 7:25 left to put VU up five. On Carolina's next trip, he blocked two shots on the same possession. After a Vandy miss, Ezeli swatted another, and after the teams' exchanged scoreless trips again, Ezeli's lay-up put VU up seven at 5:23.
An Ezeli steal set up Jeffery Taylor's free throw, and Ezeli got a rebound on Carolina's next miss. He then hit two foul shots with 4:19 left to put VU up 10.
The Gamecocks never got closer than eight again, and Vandy won 59-48.
What went right:
Ezeli's dominating presence, the play of John Jenkins, and a dominating edge at the foul line.
We just discussed Ezeli's night; the final line for the senior included 3-of-4 from the field, 8-of-8 from the line, five blocks, a steal, four rebounds, and 14 points in just 18 minutes.
Jenkins carried the Vandy offense until the 'Dores pulled away at the end. He had 21 points on 10 shots, and uncharacteristically added two blocks to boot.
Defensively, coach Kevin Stallings was thrilled with Jenkins' effort on the defensive end against Bruce Ellington, who converted just 5-of-13 shots and scored 15 points. Yes, Ellington did get by Jenkins and into the lane several times, but there were always teammates waiting… and Jenkins himself wasn't far behind, either.
VU's biggest edge, though, came at the foul line. VU hit 25-of-28 (89 percent) while Carolina converted all four of its shots.
What went wrong:
I think South Carolina coach Darrin Horn might have wanted people to be aware of the foul discrepancy since he only mentioned it four times in a press conference that lasted about four minutes. Horn also mentioned that the Gamecocks were knocked to the floor on occasion without getting the call.
This won't be popular with Vanderbilt fans, but I think Horn had a point. And the truth for Vandy is this: it shouldn't take a 21-point edge at the foul line to beat a team that's 2-10 in the Southeastern Conference, and a team that lost most of those games by double-digits.
That's especially true this late in the season for a team that starts four seniors and an All-American caliber junior in Jenkins.
The truth also is that Carolina missed a lot of wide-open 3-pointers on kick-outs from Ellington. The Gamecocks hit just 33 percent of its 23 attempts from outside, just a point above their season average. But looks don't come a lot easier than the ones that USC got on Wednesday.
Take away some of the edge at the line, have a few of those open looks fall, and this could have easily been one of those games where VU had another one of those inexplicable losses that knocked it down a seed or two on Selection Sunday.
On the other hand, VU was probably due some breaks in close games, so perhaps you can chalk some of this up to an "evening out" for things that went wrong earlier in the season.
The Commodore front line vs. South Carolina. Vanderbilt came into the game with a decisive advantage up front and though the contest was interesting for the first 30 minutes, it was the Commodores inside game of Ezeli and Goulbourne that proved to be too much for South Carolina to handle.
Ezeli struggled with some decisions to start the game, but asserted himself both offensively and defensively during the games final 10 minutes. The senior began to draw fouls by the bunches and convert on the free throw line.
On the other end, he was a force field, denying the Gamecocks on several shots near the basket and even stepping in front of a pass or two to create a turnover.
Goulbourne was his usual self on the glass, leading the team in rebounds. He also began to assert himself on the interior and got the free throw line.
The Commodores finished the game with a 22-14 advantage in terms of points in the paint and a 34-27 rebounding advantage.
Player of the game:
Ezeli. Though Jenkins led all scorers with 21 points, it was Ezeli's end-game play that aided VU's victory the most.
The only negative on his night was three turnovers, with most coming during the early stages of the game.
Ezeli's night was huge considering that second-leading scorer (Taylor) had such an off-night from the field.
South Carolina didn't come into the game as a particularly strong defensive team. In fact, the Gamecocks were last in field goal percentage defense.
So it was a surprise to see the Commodores struggle so much from the field during the first half. The team shot just 34.6 percent from the field and just 18.2 percent from 3 during the game's first 20 minutes.
A lot of the struggles centered around Taylor going 1-for-8 from the field. His night was quite a surprise considering what he had done just two games ago against Ole Miss.
It marked the first time this season in which Taylor attempted more than three 3-pointers and failed to convert in a game.
A positive surprise was the Commodores ability to convert at the free throw line. After struggling during much of the year with a 70 percent mark from the charity stripe, the 'Dores couldn't miss on Wednedsay.
Freshman Josh Henderson, who's missed about three months with injury, suited up but did not play. … Brad Tinsley (458 career assists) passed Frank Seckar for second on VU's all-time assist chart. He'll need 59 more to pass Atiba Prater for first. … Jenkins (1,507 points) moved past Dan Langhi for 13th place on Vandy's all-time scoring chart. His two blocked shots tied a career high. … Taylor's steal moved him past Jason Holwerda for eighth on VU's all-time chart. He now has 139. His four points was a season low, with the previous-worst mark being his nine in the season's second game vs. Cleveland State.