Jan. 28, 2004
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Coach Dave Odom drew up the final play. Kerbrell Brown made sure it worked perfectly for South Carolina.
Brown tapped in Josh Gonner’s miss with 1.9 seconds left and lifted the 24th-ranked Gamecocks over Vanderbilt 57-55 Wednesday night for the their fifth straight win.
“It is a play that scatters the defense,” Odom said. “In case you do miss the shot, it is a difficult blockout. Kerbrell got his hand on it, and that was the basketball game.”
South Carolina (18-2, 5-1) remained atop the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division with the victory in an ugly game that featured 17 lead changes and six ties, the last with 9.2 seconds to go off Matt Freije’s putback of Mario Moore’s miss.
The Gamecocks took a timeout, setting up Gonner who took the ball up the court and drove to the basket. His shot missed, and the ball rolled around before Brown knocked it in.
“I saw three guys go after Josh,” Brown said. “My heart stopped because I thought it was going to roll out. I saw my man go to Josh, so I went to the board.”
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said coaches can drill players repeatedly to box out in such situations. Then players become human.
“They’re going to stare at the ball, and they happened to have a guy standing right in front of the rim, and we didn’t get over and get him boxed out,” Stallings said.
Vanderbilt (13-4, 2-4) had one last chance, but Freije’s desperation heave from just past midcourt wasn’t close.
“It is a play that scatters the defense. In case you do miss the shot, it is a difficult blockout. Kerbrell got his hand on it, and that was the basketball game.”
South Carolina Head Coach Dave Odom
It was the Commodores’ first loss at home this season, snapping an 11-game winning streak in Memorial Gym. Losing to South Carolina has become a habit. The Gamecocks now have won 13 of the past 16 games in this series, and Vanderbilt has not won on its home court since Jan. 20, 1999.
Gonner finished with 17 points to lead South Carolina, and Carlos Powell had 10. Brown had eight points.
Freije led Vanderbilt with 26 points, and Scott Hundley added 12. The Commodores had their chance to help themselves but went 16-of-25 at the free throw line compared to South Carolina, which was a perfect 11-of-11.
The Gamecocks, who lead the SEC in most defensive categories, got Vanderbilt into the kind of sloppy and messy game they prefer with three jump ball situations in the opening minutes alone as players just started reaching in and tying up the ball.
Vanderbilt led 32-28 after a first half that featured two players being ejected after a tussle in front of the Commodores’ bench. Gamecocks center Renaldo Balkman apparently hit Vanderbilt guard Corey Smith, who threw Balkman to the ground and started punching him with 5:37 left in the half.
Stallings and assistant Jeff Jackson pulled Smith away, and officials spent 10 minutes talking amongst themselves and with the coaches from each team before ejecting Balkman for a flagrant foul and Smith for fighting.
The Vanderbilt coach said he guessed that Balkman hit Smith in the mouth.
“If I hadn’t grabbed our guy, our guy would’ve killed their guy. But it is what it is, and you have to react better,” Stallings said.
“If somebody’s going to hit you in the mouth, you need to wait a little while until you get a chance to knock some of their teeth out. But you don’t need to do it right then. But I’d be worried about his teeth in the next game if that’s what happened.”
Odom said he only saw Smith “whaling away” at Balkman.
“It was a very unfortunate incident. It is not something I’m proud of, it is not something our players are proud of, and I’m sure it is not something Vanderbilt is proud of,” Odom said.
Freije picked up a technical of his own after throwing the ball at a South Carolina player after scoring to put Vandy up 20-17 with 4:41. Freije scored seven points in the final 1:53 to keep the Commodores ahead at halftime.
South Carolina won despite going without a bucket from the floor for 6? minutes down the stretch before Gonner stole the ball and scored on a layup with 29.1 seconds to go for a 55-53 lead.