USC coach Darrin Horn donned a Garnet Army T-shirt and mingled with students before Tuesdays game, trying to drum up excitement about his team that had won six of its past eight contests.
Horn will have to continue politicking fans after the Gamecocks lost 67-57 against Vanderbilt in an anemic offensive effort hidden by a 14-0 run to end the game. Horn has lost his first two games in league play for the first time since arriving in Columbia four seasons ago
The schedule does not get easier for South Carolina (8-8, 0-2). The Gamecocks face the five best SEC teams six more times in the next seven games. They play No. 19 Florida (13-4, 1-1) on Saturday in Columbia.
The team has stuck to a mantra all season to put losses and struggles behind them.
We just have to play through it, said forward Malik Cooke, the teams leading scorer who scored nine points after getting none in the first half.
The teams struggled to score in the first half, combining for 34 points after a period where Vanderbilt led 22-12. The Gamecocks shot 19.2 percent and missed all eight of their 3-point attempts.
But USC was assertive in the opening 20 minutes. The Commodores (12-4, 2-0) grabbed just two offensive rebounds and committed 11 turnovers as many as they had in their 30-point win over Auburn on Saturday. And Vanderbilts two leading scorers combined for five first-half points,
Defensively, I thought we were in really good shape, Horn said.
Offense was a different matter. The Gamecocks have scored 30 first-half points in their first two SEC games, including a 79-64 loss at Kentucky.
I think we let that affect us, Horn said. Its hard to get a young team to continue to grind that way when theyre not seeing the ball going into the basket.
The Commodores started the second half with a 10-3 run behind a pair of 3-pointers by John Jenkins, who scored two first-half points. Jenkins came into the game averaging an SEC-high 20.3 points per game and led four Commodores in double figures with 14 points.
Vanderbilt would hit seven three pointers in the first 10 minutes of the second half to stretch the lead beyond 20 points. USC had no answer despite shooting 60 percent to close the game.
The Commodores began to wear down South Carolina on the boards to get second-chance points. They shot 60 percent in the second half and 57.5 percent in the game.
The Gamecocks did not connect on a 3-pointer until midway through the second half. They finished 4-for-13 from long-range with three of them coming as South Carolina surged in the final 3:49.
USC sophomore forward Damontre Harris recorded his first double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Point guard Bruce Ellington, who continues to look more comfortable since returning from the football team, led the team with a season-high 20 points.
The Gamecocks had a small scare toward the end of the first half when Cooke twisted his left ankle and had to go to the locker room. Cooke, who was out for months after dislocating his right ankle over the summer, returned shortly afterward and played 35 minutes.
Horn said the team appreciated the support of fans, especially the students who returned in big numbers after the Christmas break.
It was much louder tonight than it had been for any non-conference game, Horn said. We just have to keep getting better and control the things we can control.
Ezeli 1-1 0-0 2, Tinsley 4-5 2-2 13, Goulbourne 2-6 4-4 8, Jenkins 5-10 0-0 14, Taylor 4-6 0-0 11, Johnson 0-3 0-0 0, Fuller 0-1 0-0 0, Parker 1-1 0-0 3, Tchiengang 4-5 2-2 10, Moats 0-0 0-0 0, Odom 2-2 0-0 6. Totals 23-40 8-8 67.
SOUTH CAROLINA (8-8)
Gill 3-7 2-2 8, Cooke 4-11 0-0 9, Harris 4-7 3-4 11, Jackson 1-5 1-2 3, Smith 0-4 0-0 0, Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Richardson 2-3 0-0 6, Ellington 8-12 3-3 20, Leonard 0-4 0-0 0, Slawson 0-0 0-0 0, Geathers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-53 9-11 57.
Halftime: Vanderbilt 22-12. 3-Point Goals: Vanderbilt 13-22 (Jenkins 4-8, Taylor 3-4, Tinsley 3-4, Odom 2-2, Parker 1-1, Goulbourne 0-1, Johnson 0-1, Tchiengang 0-1), South Carolina 4-13 (Richardson 2-3, Ellington 1-2, Cooke 1-2, Gill 0-2, Leonard 0-2, Smith 0-2). Fouled Out: Ezeli. Rebounds: Vanderbilt 27 (Goulbourne 10), South Carolina 21 (Harris 10). Assists: Vanderbilt 19 (Tinsley 9), South Carolina 4 (Ellington 3). Total Fouls: Vanderbilt 15, South Carolina 11. Attendance: 8,353.