Vanderbilt’s men’s basketball team nearly pulled off an 11-point second-half comeback on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Gymnasium but the Commodores (9-5, 1-1) stopped just short, dropping their SEC home opener 72-70 to South Carolina.
The Gamecocks (10-4, 1-1) employed a balanced, efficient attack, shooting nearly 55 percent from the field and adding 30 points from the bench.
“Every game is tough. We know that. In this league, there’s no nights off. South Carolina is a very good team,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “We knew that they had a couple of disappointing outings, slow starts. They were hungry. They came out and did what they had to do. Now it’s our chance to bounce back and respond.”
Meanwhile, many of Vanderbilt’s mistakes were self-inflicted. The Commodores shot just 36 percent from the field and missed 10 free throws, including nine in the second half.
The Gamecocks led by 11 with just over seven minutes remaining in the game, but Vanderbilt pulled a 14-5 run together during the ensuing six minutes, capped by a Scotty Pippen Jr. fadeaway to cut the deficit to two. A Myles Stute free throw further chipped the South Carolina lead down to one, 71-70, with 11 seconds left on the clock.
Following a Gamecock free throw to expand the lead to 72-70, Vanderbilt had one last possession to attempt to win or tie the game. However, the play ended unceremoniously, with Pippen tossing the ball out to an empty space on the perimeter as the clock expired.
“I take that one. I think it was more in Scotty’s head to make a pass with six seconds. They kind of jammed him,” Stackhouse said. “I think if he catches it and he has a break, then he has plenty of time to execute what we wanted to execute. But because they jammed him right there on the ball, that took a second or two for him to get into motion, and from there we just need to try to get a shot at the rim, something to the basket or a three. It was not executed well because of the time and the jam, but it probably wasn't the right call.”
It was one of seven turnovers for Pippen, who finished with 17 points, three rebounds and a team-high six assists.
Myles Stute led the team with 19 points, draining 4-7 three pointers, and added four rebounds. Jordan Wright notched 15 points and swiped three steals.
Next up for the Commodores will be a visit from No. 16 Kentucky on Tuesday at 6 p.m. The Wildcats, who have won 11 of their last 13 following an early-season loss to Duke, will be a tough task for Vanderbilt who will be trying to stay above .500 in conference play.