The scouting report and the perception of Vanderbilt puzzles Frank Martin.
The South Carolina coach sees a better team on the court than what comes across on paper.
With the focus turning to tournament time, the Commodores helped affirm Martin’s beliefs Saturday when they wrapped up the regular season with a 74-64 victory over the Gamecocks in front of 10,279 at Memorial Gymnasium. Rod Odom and Dai-Jon Parker each scored 18 points to lead the Commodores to their sixth win in seven games.
“All those guys are freshmen and sophomores back in November and everyone said, ‘Oh, they’re not very good,’” Martin said. “Well, good luck to those people who are so ignorant they are willing to judge people in the first week of the season. A lot of credit to coach [Kevin] Stallings and those kids. I enjoy watching their team because they play it the right way.”
Against South Carolina (14-17, 4-14 Southeastern Conference), the Commodores exorcised some more of their early demons. The same team that lost their first three league games, blew numerous double-digit leads and suffered multiple close losses, held against a serious South Carolina rally.
Vanderbilt (14-16, 8-10) led by 12 in the second half but Lakeem Jackson made a layup with 3:45 left and cut the lead to two, 56-54. The Commodores stayed poised and responded with a pick and roll executed by Josh Henderson. After forcing a turnover, Parker banked in his final third and final 3-pointer for a seven-point advantage with 2:23 remaining.
“Never forget there is always a little luck involved in this game,” Stallings said.
Said Parker: “Everybody knows the bank is open on Saturdays.”
Brenton Williams led the Gamecocks with 17 points and his third 3-pointer cut the deficit to 66-62 with 35 seconds left. Vanderbilt then sealed the win at the foul line – a place that had caused much pain for most of the season.
The second-worst free-throw shooting team two months ago, the Commodores made eight of their last 10 from the foul line. Kedren Johnson scored 10 of his 12 points there.
Vanderbilt finished 23-of-28 and has made at least 70 percent of its foul shots in three of its last five games.
As a result, the defending SEC Tournament champion goes into next week’s 14-team field with momentum and confidence. The Commodores will open the tournament on Thursday at Bridgestone Arena as the No. 10 seed and will play No. 7 seed Arkansas (6:30 p.m., SEC Network). The teams split the regular-season series.
“I’m real proud of our team for hanging in there this regular season and fighting all the way to the end and never giving in through some of the disappointments we had,” Stallings said.