By PETE IACOBELLI
COLUMBIA — Vanderbilt held on despite squandering nearly all of a 10-point lead in the second half to win their first Southeastern Conference game of the season, 58-51 over South Carolina on Saturday.
Kyle Fuller scored 12 points and Dai-Jon Parker 11 for Vanderbilt (7-9, 1-3 SEC), which has had its share of problems finishing games this season.
Things were slipping away for Vanderbilt at the Colonial Life Arena. This time, though, the Commodores called on some tough defense and solid foul shooting to earn their fourth straight win over South Carolina.
The Commodores (7-9, 1-3) led 45-35 with 8:35 to go after a free throw by Shelby Moats. South Carolina (11-6, 1-3) used a 14-6 run over the next six minutes to get within a basket at 51-49, but the Gamecocks got no closer.
Vanderbilt went 0-for-6 from the field in the last 6:27 but made seven foul shots down the stretch to keep in front. The Commodores’ leading scorer coming in, Kedren Johnson, was held to three points, 12 fewer than his average, on 0-of-6 shooting.
Brenton Williams had 16 points to lead South Carolina. Williams missed a 3-pointer with 1:41 left that would’ve given the Gamecocks a lead when they trailed 51-49.
Williams said teammate Bruce Ellington found him for an open 3 in the corner. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make the shot,” Williams said.
Rod Odom extended the Commodores’ lead with a pair of foul shots moments later. Fuller made 1 of 2 from the line, as did Sheldon Jeter. Fuller added one more foul shot for a 56-49 lead with 36 seconds left.
After Brian Richardson scored the Gamecocks’ final points on breakaway dunk, Johnson and Fuller each made one more foul shot to put the game away. Vanderbilt avoided its first four-game SEC losing streak since the 2008-09 season.
South Carolina tried to pack the Colonial Life Arena as much for the football team as the basketball team. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier and his staff entertained several high school prospects the team hopes to sign next month.
Fans received posters commemorating what the school called the “Best Football Team in Gamecock History.” South Carolina went 11-2 this past season, wrapping things up with a 33-28 victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
Spurrier wore a bright red jacket at halftime as the fans stood and cheered. The head ball coach was flanked by several players, including star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Basketball coach Frank Martin had hoped to build on his team’s first SEC road win in two years earlier this week at LSU.
“It’s a daily lesson with our team,” the first-year coach said. “We obviously didn’t handle winning on the road very well.”