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Feb 8, 2024 7:24 pm

No. 15 South Carolina earning respect entering clash vs. Vanderbilt

myles stute

No. 15 South Carolina began its season fighting for respect. With that earned around the Southeastern Conference, the Gamecocks enter the final eight games of the regular season playing for bigger stakes when they host Vanderbilt in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday.

Coach Lamont Paris was publicly offended when the SEC media picked South Carolina (20-3, 8-2 SEC) last in the league’s preseason media poll.

“I take it personal, and I take it personal for a lot of reasons,” Paris told TheBigSpur.com after the infamous media vote. “Ultimately it says, ‘We don’t think that coach is very good,’ or, ‘We don’t think those players are very good.'”

And thus began the revenge tour.

South Carolina is riding six-game winning streak that’s vaulted it into a first-place tie atop the league standings with Alabama and Auburn as clearly, Paris’ players took that vote personally, too.

“Hey, if they like us, they like us,” Gamecocks forward Myles Stute told The Big Spur. “If they don’t, they’ll pay the price.”

Stute’s got additional reasons for motivation this Saturday. He spent his first three seasons playing at Vanderbilt, where his playing time waned down the stretch of last season.

The Commodores could use Stute’s help this year. His 42.2 percent shooting from 3-point range would lead this year’s Vanderbilt team, which is hitting at just a 28.3 percent rate behind the arc.

Vanderbilt (6-16, 1-8) has seen its season go in the opposite direction. Last Saturday’s 68-61 win over Missouri snapped a seven-game losing streak, but all momentum was lost when 17th-ranked
Kentucky smashed the Commodores, 109-77, on Vanderbilt’s home floor Tuesday.

Vanderbilt was picked 11th in the preseason media poll but its past six losses have come by double figures, leaving coach Jerry Stackhouse increasingly frustrated. Most recently, that agitation boiled over Tuesday when Stackhouse — whose team was whistled for 10 fouls vs. Kentucky’s 19 — was assessed a technical foul late in the game.

“This is one of those where you just forget about it,” Stackhouse said afterward while crumpling the postgame stat sheet in his hands.

One thing South Carolina and Vanderbilt have in common: Each loves to play at a slow pace. The Gamecocks’ 19.5 seconds per offensive possession (per KenPom.com) ranks 350th in the country, while Vanderbilt (18.9) ranks 321st there.

Each team’s success rides on its guards. For Carolina, that’s Meechie Johnson (14.5 ppg), the team’s leading scorer, and combo guard Talon Cooper (10.4 ppg), who averages 4.3 assists and just 1.3 turnovers per game.

Vanderbilt’s leading scorers are guards Ezra Manjon (14.7) and Tyrin Lawrence (13.9). Manjon has scored above his average just once (17 vs. Missouri) in his past seven games, while Lawrence has exceeded his average five times in that span.

South Carolina has a decided advantage with the rest of its roster.

The Commodores will have trouble matching up a front line that includes Collin Murray-Boyles, who had 16 points and nine rebounds in Tuesday’s Ole Miss game. Forward B.J. Mack (13.4 ppg), Carolina’s second-leading scorer, leads the team in rebounding (5.0).

A Vanderbilt upset would likely include a big game from Ven-Allen Lubin (10.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg), who registered a double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds) in a loss at Auburn two games ago.

–Field Level Media

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