Wow. That...ended poorly. Just as it looked like Vanderbilt would pull out a sloppy comeback win like they did against Georgia and Florida, the Gamecocks refused to make the mistakes that would allow the 'Dores to get back into the game. Devan Downey made sure that the fans in Nashville would remember his name by putting the nails in Vandy's coffin. His monster-three in response to Jermaine Beal's big shot put USC ahead with under two minutes to play, and combined with his frantic footwork in dribbling out the clock, ensured that the Gamecocks would finish the regular season on a high note.
Hopefully, the loss will help flush all the sloppy play and poor rebounding out of Vanderbilt's system as they head into postseason play. Their second half collapse today was punctuated by missed shots around the basket and an inability to clear the glass on defense. Vanderbilt had excelled at out-passing the full-court press and turning pressure into easy baskets for most of the season, but today they just couldn't shake the Gamecocks. While the loss won't affect Vandy's SEC Tournament seeding, it will give their critics another morsel to chew on while ranking Tennessee six or seven slots higher than them.
It's a tough, annoying loss; made all the more painful knowing that it was Dolla Beal's last game at Memorial Gym. Still, the wake-up call might be what the team needed to play to their full potential in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. Coach Kevin Stallings will surely be putting these guys through the ringer leading up to their first game next week. Other observations:
Hopefully Brad Tinsley's back at 100% next week - both physically and mentally: Tinsley went down in the second half with a knee injury, and his absence sparked South Carolina's scoring. Losing Tinsley would deal another blow to the team's bench, but even if he's healthy you have to wonder what effect the injury will have on him mentally. Though his shot wasn't falling, he was using an underrated dribble-drive game to be effective on the court. If he loses the mind-set to put the ball on the floor and instead just sits back and bombs threes that won't fall, he could create more problems than he solves in big games.
- The bench effectively extended the team's lead heading into the second half: Led by Steve Tchiengang, the second unit finished out the first half tough and helped the team pull away from USC going into halftime. Unfortunately, they couldn't keep this up into the second half, which allowed the Gamecocks to get back into the game. On a related note...
- The Darshawn McClellan Corollary: For every good play McClellan makes, he follows it with two mistakes. He finished the first half with a skillful move in the lane that earned him a lay-up and the foul. He then followed that up in the second half with a drive through the lane that ended with his shot going over the backboard. He topped this with a perfectly telegraphed pass...to Devan Downey. Darshawn can look good in short minutes but is too inconsistent, even as a junior, to have a significant positive impact on the team. Hopefully Lance Goulbourne returns from injury soon so the team doesn't have to rely on McClellan for extended minutes in the NCAA Tournament.
- The Australian Sheik may just be this team's most frustrating player: Brad Nessler said it best "When he wants to, he can play as well as anyone around." A.J. Ogilvy looked great in the first half, and then disappeared in the second. He plays with intensity, but can't seem to funnel that intensity into his game, especially when it comes to finishing around the basket. There's no question that Ogilvy plays tough, but he still can't translate that toughness into his offensive game.
- Speaking of disappearing: What happened to Jeffery Taylor late in the game? A fast-paced game like the one that South Carolina imposed on Vanderbilt should be the kind of game where JT thrives. He started off the second half with four quick points created by his athleticism - and then faded into the background for the last 16 minutes - going scoreless with as many missed lay-ups (2) as turnovers. Maybe he was just deferring to Jermaine Beal on his Senior Day, but more action from Taylor - especially during the team's offensive slump - could have changed the game for the Commodores today.
Speaking of blown opportunities - a little something to make the loss sting a bit less: