NASHVILLE, Tenn. | he Vanderbilt Commodores have the Southeastern Conference's top two scorers in John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor. They also can play some stingy defense, which helps on a night when either struggles to find the basket.
Jenkins scored 21 points, but Taylor was held to a season-low four as Vanderbilt beat South Carolina 59-48 Wednesday night for its third straight victory.
The Commodores held South Carolina to a season-low in points and made the Gamecocks the third Southeastern Conference opponent they've held below 50 points this season.
"The story of the game was our defense, particularly John's defense on (Bruce) Ellington," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "It was superb."
The Commodores (20-8, 9-4) also won their 20th game, giving them seven such seasons in the past nine, all under Stallings who passed Roy Skinner (six) for most 20-win seasons. Vanderbilt stayed in sole possession of third in the SEC, a game behind No. 12 Florida before Saturday's trip to top-ranked Kentucky.
"Twenty wins, I'm proud of that," Stallings said. "I hope we have a lot more in us."
The Commodores won despite a sloppy performance saved mostly by going 23 of 26 at the free-throw line in the second half. South Carolina (10-17, 2-11) hit all its free throws but took only four the whole night to lose for the seventh time in eight games.
Festus Ezeli added 14 points and had five of Vanderbilt's nine blocks, and Lance Goulbourne added 12 points. Taylor, who came in as the SEC's second-leading scorer averaging 17.8 points per game, was 1 of 8 from the floor and missed all five 3-point attempts.
South Carolina coach Darrin Horn was happy to limit at least Taylor.
"You're not going to keep both of those guys down between the two of them," he said. "They have 25 points (combined), we hold them under 40 percent shooting and 25 (percent) from the 3. We had just an outstanding, outstanding defensive effort ...But you're not winning any games when the other team shoots 28 free throws, and you shoot four. It's just not going to happen."
Ellington led the Gamecocks with 15 points and Damontre Harris had 10.
Vanderbilt won easily 67-57 in Columbia on Jan. 10, but the Gamecocks did a much better job sticking around this time. The Commodores didn't push their lead to double digits until a pair of Ezeli free throws with 4:19 left.
"They don't get enough credit for how good they are defensively," Horn said.
Jenkins didn't realize the Commodores had added South Carolina to a list with Auburn and Tennessee in scoring below 50.
"That's really good especially when we weren't shooting well in the first half," he said. "They had 22, we had 22, which is not good for us on offense, but it's good for us on defense. So we just had to go out there, and second-half defense has kind of been a problem some this year and we definitely didn't have that tonight."
The Commodores looked tired and struggled shooting throughout. Stallings credited South Carolina's defense with causing them to stand around too much. They went cold in the first half after consecutive 3-pointers by Jenkins, the last with 12:06 left, and didn't score again until Brad Tinsley's layup with 7:25 to go.
Ellington got going, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers himself. He then drove for a layup for his first eight points of the game and South Carolina's final eight of the first half. That layup tied up Vanderbilt for the third time in the half at 22.
The Commodores couldn't even get off a decent shot after taking a timeout to set it up with 33 seconds remaining. Goulbourne lost the ball, chased it down and then threw up a shot that came nowhere close to the basket. The sequence was so sloppy a couple of boos were heard.
The lead went back and forth in the opening half with South Carolina holding its last lead at 27-26 on a pair of free throws by Harris. Then Taylor, who missed his first six shots, finally scored off a lob from Tinsley with 17:11 left. That put Vanderbilt ahead with the sixth and final lead change and starting an 11-3 spurt.
Jenkins hit a 3 and had a pair of free throws for a 37-30 lead that was the Commodores' largest with 14:12 left.
The Gamecocks never got closer than three the rest of the way as Vanderbilt kept going to the free-throw line after hitting both attempts in the first half.
"Again, 28 free throws to four," Horn said. "So it's going to be basically impossible to win the game."
South Carolina hosts Tennessee on Saturday. The following week, in its final two regular-season games, USC hosts Mississippi State and then plays at Georgia.
SOUTH CAROLINA (10-17)
Cooke 3-10 0-0 8, Slawson 0-0 0-0 0, Geathers 1-2 0-0 2, Ellington 5-13 2-2 15, Leonard 4-15 0-0 10, Williams 2-7 0-0 5, Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Gill 1-3 0-0 2, Harris 2-3 2-2 6, Jackson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-55 4-4 48.
Goulbourne 2-6 7-8 12, Taylor 1-8 2-4 4, Ezeli 3-4 8-8 14, Tinsley 2-6 2-2 6, Jenkins 6-10 6-6 21, Johnson 1-3 0-0 2, Parker 0-0 0-0 0, Tchiengang 0-1 0-0 0, Moats 0-0 0-0 0, Odom 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 15-39 25-28 59.
Halftime: Tied 22-22. 3-Point Goals: South Carolina 8-23 (Ellington 3-4, Cooke 2-6, Leonard 2-10, Williams 1-2, Gill 0-1), Vanderbilt 4-16 (Jenkins 3-6, Goulbourne 1-2, Odom 0-1, Tinsley 0-2, Taylor 0-5). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: South Carolina 27 (Harris 6), Vanderbilt 34 (Goulbourne 8). Assists: South Carolina 9 (Ellington 4), Vanderbilt 12 (Tinsley 5). Total Fouls: South Carolina 20, Vanderbilt 9. Attendance: 13,705.