There's something about snow days.
South Carolina picked up its second conference win of the season under the same circumstances as its first - in front of a small crowd after a pair of snow days that shut down USC's campus.
The Gamecocks went cold from the floor against Vanderbilt Thursday afternoon, shooting just 37.5 from the field, but they out-hustled the Commodores all over the floor to secure a 65-59 victory at Colonial Life Arena. Sindarius Thornwell scored 19 points, Brenton Williams added 14 more and South Carolina out-rebounded the Commodores 45-31.
"I don't think the six-point differential was indicative of how badly they outplayed us," said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings.
Head coach Frank Martin was just as impressed with his team.
"I'm real happy with our guys, their resolve, their fight, their attention to detail," said Martin. "I thought defensively we played real well. We played strong today. That's why we grabbed 26 (offensive) rebounds.
"We didn't shy away from contact. When the ball went on the rim, we weren't taking the hits, we were getting through contact and going after the ball."
South Carolina improved to 2-9 in the league and 9-15 overall with the win, while Vanderbilt dropped to 5-6 in SEC play and 13-10 overall.
The Gamecocks led the entire first half, entering the locker room ahead 28-27 after a 20-minute span of sloppy, back-and-forth play. Vanderbilt appeared to take control in the second half when Kyle Fuller made a layup to put the Commodores ahead 38-36 with 15 minutes left to play, but South Carolina responded to the challenge.
Thornwell drained two foul shots and a 3-pointer to spark the Gamecocks to a 22-7 run over a 10-minute span. South Carolina suffered just one more scare from there. Vanderbilt put together a 7-0 run to trim the lead to 58-52 with 2:52 to go, but Thornwell scored six points in the final two minutes to send the Commodores home empty-handed.
Building a lead and then watching it slip away had become a worn-out narrative for the Gamecocks this season, and Martin was happy to see the Gamecocks find a way to win.
"We almost did the same thing again. We build leads and then we start turning it over, and not playing very intelligently on offense which leads to easy baskets and gives the other team life," Martin said. "And we almost did it again. But we buckled down. We hunkered in."
The win snaps a three-game losing streak for the Gamecocks, who hadn't won since beating Texas A&M 80-52 after USC's last pair of snow days two weeks ago.
"We don't pay attention to it, but when you lose, everyone knows you lose," Martin said. "I know we lose. The players know we lose, but that's why I'm proud of them. Because they don't pay attention to that outside noise. They're locked in on one thing, and they're coming in and working every day."
Martin said Thornwell has led the team in that respect, saying he loves how engaged the freshman is everyday. Three straight losses have made it easy for Thornwell, who tallied six rebounds and six assists on the night, to appreciate the feeling of sitting in front of a microphone at the postgame press conference after a win.
"It feels good to finally come here and smile, Thornwell said. "All the times we've come in here with a frown, or we're sad that we've blown a lead or messed up or something, so it feels good to finally come in here and smile.
"Hopefully we can continue with this winning streak Saturday."
Martin said he didn't think the delay - the game was postponed from 7 p.m. Wednesday night - had a major effect on the game since Vanderbilt's schedule was also disrupted by the weather. But he did notice one key element that appears to spell success for the Gamecocks in SEC play.
"We need more snow," Martin said.
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