NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Yes, Hassani Gravett heard what Vanderbilt guard Saben Lee said to draw a technical foul with 1:38 left to set up a five-point swing for South Carolina.
Gamecocks coach Frank Martin reached over quickly, tapping his senior guard on the arm as he told his senior guard not to answer.
Gravett gave his answer on the court, scoring nine of the Gamecocks’ final 11 points over the last 1:38, helping South Carolina rally from a 12-point deficit to beat Vanderbilt 74-71 Wednesday night.
“We just stayed composed through adversity,” Gravett said.
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Lee’s 15 footer that could have given Vanderbilt the lead bounced off the rim with five seconds left. Gravett sealed the victory with two more free throws with 2 seconds left, and Aaron Nesmith missed a 3 at the buzzer for Vandy.
South Carolina (9-7, 4-0) came in having won its first three SEC games for only the third time since joining the conference. This time, the Gamecocks led for less than 2 minutes early and never by more than two until the final seconds. But the Gamecocks hit their final 12 free throws, and A.J. Lawson’s pair with 23.1 seconds left put South Carolina up for good at 72-71.
Martin said he reminded his Gamecocks that they were in this same position last season when Vanderbilt visited with South Carolina desperate for its first conference win. He preached to play all 40 minutes and not worry if the Commodores jumped out to a big lead.
“We did that, and it worked out for us,” Martin said.
Lawson finished with 24 points, and Gravett scored all of his 17 in the second half. Keyshawn Bryant added 13 on a night where Chris Silva, South Carolina’s leading scorer, finished with a season-low two points after foul trouble limited him to 13 minutes.
Vanderbilt (9-7) now is 0-4 in SEC play for the first time in program history.
“I’m sure you guys are saying the same thing that I’m saying right now,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. “How in the world did we lose that game? That was a game that we should’ve won. That was our game to win, and the last five minutes (we) could not make the plays at the free throw line or the defensive end that we needed to win.”
The Commodores led 68-63 when officials called the technical on Lee after blocking Gravett’s shot near the basket. Gravett hit both free throws with 1:38 to go, then added a 3 tying it up at 68 with 1:12 left.
“That was very costly,” Drew said.
Simisola Shittu hit a free throw and missed the second for Vandy’s last lead at 71-70 with 29.8 seconds left. South Carolina finished it off at the line.
Nesmith scored a career-high 23 points for Vanderbilt. The native of Charleston, South Carolina, and South Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2018 opened helped Vanderbilt lead 39-29 at halftime.
Lee finished with 17 points, and Shittu had 13.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks came in fourth in the SEC averaging 81 points per game in league play. They finally got into a rhythm shooting just in time down the stretch.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores are second-best in the SEC at getting to the free throw line and making shots. But they struggled mightily at the line against South Carolina, and none worse than Lee. He was 9 of 16 at the line, not counting all the back ends he didn’t get to try after missing his first chances. Vanderbilt missed a season-high 13 attempts at the line, going 24 of 37 (64.9 percent).
“You guys can’t run around and say that I’m the biggest grouch in the history of mankind, and then think I’m going to let these guys kind of back off. You can’t say I’m a grouch and I’m a mean guy and turn around and think I’m going to go patty cake at practice,” Martin said with a smile on handling the Gamecocks’ start in SEC play.
South Carolina: Visits LSU on Saturday.
Vanderbilt: Hosts No. 23 Mississippi State on Saturday night.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
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