Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins regained his shooting touch. But so did Bruce Ellington.
South Carolina’s leading scorer rebounded nicely after missing his first five shots Saturday and scored 22 points. No. 22 Vanderbilt didn’t have any answer for the late surge as it blew a 14-point second-half lead and fell 83-75 in overtime on the road in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Jenkins, Vanderbilt’s leading scorer at 17.8 points per game, returned to the starting lineup after a concussion sidelined him for one game. His last time out, on Dec. 29 against Marquette, he was just 2-of-15 from 3-point range but was much better against South Carolina (10-4). The sophomore was 6-of-10 from 3-point range and tied a career-high with 27 points in 41 minutes of action.
It wasn’t enough, though.
The Commodores (11-3) never trailed in regulation and led 50-36 with 13:53 to go. Then Ellington, a freshman, caught fire and made five of his six 3-pointers in the second half. Plus, South Carolina won the rebounding battle 44-38 overall and 18 offensive rebounds (14 after halftime).
“They became the aggressors and started dominating the boards on both ends and that turned the game for them,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “They started making shots from outside and we kind of wilted going down the stretch. It was very disappointing, a disappointing effort. I don’t know what it was. [South Carolina’s] energy took over the game.”
South Carolina tied the game 69-69 with 3:09 left in regulation on a Ramon Galloway free throw. Jenkins responded with three straight free throws after drawing a foul. Ellington answered right back, tying the game up on a 3-pointer with 2:10 remaining.
Neither team scored over the last two minutes, though Vanderbilt had two cracks at the end. Jeffery Taylor’s fadeaway jumper fell short and then when .3 seconds was put back on the clock, Brad Tinsley’s inbounds pass was intercepted.
That led to overtime and the Gamecocks bolted out of the gate with six straight points for their first lead of the contest. Jenkins made a 3-pointer to trim the lead to 78-75 but couldn’t get any help as the Commodores were 1-of-10 from the field in overtime. They scored just six points over the last nine minutes, including overtime.
Taylor finished with 14 points, and Steve Tchiengang added 10 off the bench. Lance Goulbourne grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds to go along with nine points.
Along with Ellington, three other Gamecocks scored in double-digit figures.
Sam Muldrow had a triple-double. He scored 16 points, had 14 rebounds (seven offensive) and blocked a career-high 10 shots. The 6-foot-9 forward entered the game averaging 9.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.
“He was awfully good,” Stallings said. “We are capable of making people look like All-Americans. My teams have had a history of doing that. It must be something with me.”
Vanderbilt, which had won four straight and nine of its last 10, returns home to play Georgia at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Memorial Gymnasium. The Bulldogs (12-2) knocked off No. 10 Kentucky with a 77-70 victory on Saturday.
“We have to play a more complete game. We have to get better play out of everybody,” Stallings said. “It doesn’t get any easier.”