Two weeks ago, a winter storm affected Georgia and South Carolina, causing massive traffic jams in Atlanta, accidents in South Carolina and school closures throughout both states, including shutting down USC for two days. During that time, South Carolina won their first conference game, a twenty eight point drubbing of Texas A&M, a Thursday night home game that I attended.
Two weeks later, South Carolina was hit with another snow storm on Wednesday, one that dumped several inches of slow, sleet and even ice across the state. It also caused massive power outages statewide and again closed schools state wide, including once again, the University of South Carolina. In the span of two weeks, the University closed for four days and had a delayed opening on a fifth day.
The snowstorm also caused the postponement of the Wednesday night Vanderbilt-South Carolina game, which was rescheduled to Thursday at 4:00 PM. By around 3:00 PM, the sun was out in Columbia and it was warm enough to melt the ice on the roads. After venturing out to the local CVS to scout out road conditions, I decided to take the trip to Colonial Life Arena to watch the game.
The roads weren't bad at all, all things considering. There wasn't much traffic midday as most people had heeded the warnings to stay off the road, but enough people had made their way out to make the roads slushy. When I got to Colonial Life Arena a half hour before game time, the parking lot I normally park in was pretty empty. There were no parking attendants, so parking was free. When I got to my seat, I would be the only person in my row for the game. I actually moved down a couple of rows for the second half.
The announced crowd was 9,829, but that must have included pre-sold tickets, because the crowd was far less than the announced number. As a result, you heard a lot more things than you normally would in a more full arena. Then again, you can always hear Gamecocks Head Coach Frank Martin on the court, no matter how large the crowd. Martin puts on a show with his facial expressions and outward honesty. At one point during a stoppage in play, he yelled at Brenton Williams "Are you gonna guard the ball?!"
The Gamecocks had lost three straight entering the contest against the Commodores, losing two close games at Ole Miss and home to Auburn before getting pasted on the road vs. Tennessee. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt had won four straight games in conference before losing a tough contest at home to Arkansas by two points. The Commodores featured the reigning SEC player of the week in senior Rod Odom, a six foot nine forward from my old neck of the woods, Long Island, New York (Central Islip to be specific). Odom scored twenty six points in a win vs. Tennessee and twenty two points in the close loss to Arkansas.
Vanderbilt won the tip and had three chances to score on the first possession due to two offensive rebounds. But the Commodores couldn't score. South Carolina scored the first basket on a Sindarius Thornwell jumper. Vanderbilt's James Siakam layup then tied the game at two. The Gamecocks would outscore the Commodores 8-3 over the next 90 seconds. Another Thornwell basket put South Carolina up 10-5.
Vanderbilt would hang around, thanks to their terrific freshman center Damian Jones. Over the span of a minute, Jones would hit two baskets and block two shots. His layup put Vandy within one, 14-13.
Over the next six minutes, both teams would struggle from the field as they combined to only score fifteen points. During this span, the Gamecocks were three of eleven from the field with three turnovers. Meanwhile, the Commodores committed four turnovers in the span and only attempted three field goals. The third field goal attempt, an Odom jumper, again cut the Gamecocks' lead to one, 22-21. It was Odom's first basket of the game and his only basket of the half.
Williams would bury a three to put the Gamecocks up four, 25-21 with about four and a half minutes left in the half. But that would be as large a lead that there would be the rest of the half. Vandy would get the ball back with five seconds left in the half. And after a timeout, Kyle Fuller went coast to coast off the inbounds pass for a layup to again cut the South Carolina lead to one, 28-27 at the half.
In the second half, after a Duane Notice jumper put the Gamecocks up three, 32-29, the Commodores scored the next four points. After a Fuller jumper, Jones followed with a layup to give Vandy their first lead of the game 33-32. Later Fuller would hit another jumper to put Vandy back up two, 38-36 with fifteen minutes left in the game. It would be the Commodores' last lead in the game.
Thornwell would tie the game with two free throws. Then Notice hit a three pointer off a Thornwell assist to put South Carolina up 41-38. Thornwell would later hit a three pointer to put the Gamecocks up four, 44-40. Odom would hit two free throws to cut the lead to two, 44-42 with a little over eleven minutes from there. That's as close as the Commodores would get the rest of the way.
Over the next seven plus minutes, South Carolina went on a 14-3 run. The Gamecocks clamped down on the Commodores, only allowing an Odom long distance three during the span. What made the difference was the Gamecocks' tenaciousness on the offensive glass. South Carolina would grab eight offensive rebounds during this span which would lead to many second chance opportunities. In fact, during this run, ten of the Gamecocks' fourteen points would come off second chance opportunities. Brian Steele, who is seeing more playing time due to his hustle, capped the spurt with a layup to put South Carolina up thirteen, 58-45 with four minutes left.
Vandy would not go away however, due in large part to Fuller. The Commodores went on a 7-0 spurt and Fuller had a hand in all of the Commodores' points. He first hit two free throws, then followed with a layup. He capped the run by assisting Odom on a three pointer to cut the Gamecocks' lead to six, 58-52.
But the Commodores got no further, thanks to Thornwell. While doing a terrific job of holding Odom to only nine field goal attempts, he was scoring points as well. Thornwell would score five straight South Carolina points to put the Gamecocks back up ten, 63-53 with fifty four seconds left. He capped USC's scoring by hitting one of two free throws as the Gamecocks won their second game in the SEC 65-59.
South Carolina only shot thirty eight percent from the field. But they had sixteen more field goal attempts than Vandy due to TWENTY SIX offensive rebounds, as the Gamecocks outrebounded the Commodores 45-31. It was a team effort on the glass, as no Gamecock had more than seven rebounds (Mindaugas Kacinas).
Thornwell led the Gamecocks with nineteen points and also added six rebounds and six assists. Williams added fourteen points and Notice had ten points. Fuller led the Commodores and all scorers with twenty points. Jones was terrific for Vandy with sixteen points, ten rebounds and seven blocks. Odom had only ten points as he was held by Thornwell to three of nine shooting on the day.
During the post game interview with Gamecocks' radio play by play broadcaster Andy Demetra, Martin was pleased with his team's attention to detail, their rebounding effort and his help defense, which was much better than it was against Auburn. He was particularly happy with Thornwell's defense on the much taller Odom.
During that interview, I don't remember Martin saying much about the team's luck with winter storms. It will probably be the last storm for the season. Temperatures will be up in the seventies early next week, with a forecast of the upper seventies by next weekend.
If the Gamecocks' can continue to rebound and play defense like they did on Thursday, perhaps they will get hot too.