It’s the kind of shot that can define a season.
A running jumper by sophomore guard Jermaine Beal with 0.6 seconds remaining lifted 23rd-ranked Vanderbilt to a 66-65 victory at South Carolina on Saturday.
It was Beal’s only basket of the game, and it helped the Commodores improve to 20-4 and 5-4 in Southeastern Conference play.
A week ago, Vanderbilt was 3-4 in league games and had shown no indication that it could win on the road. However, victories at Georgia and South Carolina last week put VU one game over .500. Its next four games, and five of the next six, will be played in Nashville.
If the Commodores receive an NCAA Tournament berth in March, a Feb. 9 win at South Carolina might be remembered as the turning point.
“Jermaine took it and made the shot,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “Big-time players make big-time plays on the road.”
It didn’t appear to be Vanderbilt’s day when freshman center A.J. Ogilvy — the team’s best free throw shooter at 79.5 percent — missed the front end of two one-and-ones in the closing minutes to leave the door open for the Gamecocks.
Ogilvy actually missed five consecutive free throws in the final 3 1/2 minutes.
“(I was thinking) sometimes it’s not meant to be,” Stallings said. “He just missed a couple and it got in his head. There was more pressure with each shot.”
As Beal’s short shot dropped through the net, VU’s fortunes were reversed.
“They made one more big play than we did at the right time,” South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. “Their biggest play came at the biggest moment in the game.”
GOLD NUGGETS: By improving to 20-4 Saturday, Vanderbilt reached the 20-win mark in a season for the fourth time under Stallings, who arrived in Nashville in 1999. All four have come in the past five seasons. …Vanderbilt swept the season series against South Carolina for the second straight season and for only the fourth time since the SEC split into a two-division format in 1992. The Commodores have also won three straight games in Columbia, S.C. …South Carolina guard Devan Downey entered Saturday’s game as the national leader in steals [3.4 per game] but did not record one against Vanderbilt. …Kentucky, which visits Vanderbilt on Tuesday, has won five straight games after toppling Alabama 62-52 on Saturday.