NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Like a black and gold volcano, all of Vanderbilt’s pent-up frustrations from a six-game losing streak came to a head Saturday night in Memorial Gymnasium.
South Carolina was caught in the path of a lava flow of made 3s, a long-overdue offensive barrage from Max Evans and swirling ball movement from the Commodores that had been seemingly bubbling under the surface for a month waiting for the right time to show itself.
“The energy in the locker room right now is crazy,” Evans said after the 93-81 victory.
Evans, a senior, had scored in double figures twice this season before Saturday. And one of those instances came Nov. 27 in the season-opener against Valparaiso when he finished with 16.
The Houston native hadn’t reached that high since.
But against the Gamecocks, the shooting guard was 9 of 15 from the floor and made five 3s. His production gave the Commodores (5-8, 1-6 SEC) a third scoring threat something they have been consistently lacking – alongside sophomores Dylan Disu and Scotty Pippen Jr.
Disu finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, five steals, three assists and two blocks Saturday while Pippen had 23 points and seven assists.
“When all three of us going it’s like who can you stop?” Evans said. “Disu can shoot the ball and drive, I can shoot the ball and drive – so when us three get going that’s a recipe to win every game we play.”
Evans scored 11 of his 29 in the first half as the Dores raced out to a 30-13 lead at one point. South Carolina would get as close as 30-27, but Vandy’s second wave of fire came to the tune of a 22-10 run going into the break.
Head coach Jerry Stackhouse’s team finished the first 20 minutes with 12 assists on 19 makes and had a 21-15 advantage on the boards. Vandy added nine more assists in the second half and ended the night +7 in rebounding.
“I thought we came out with great energy on the defensive end and that led to us having some early opportunities in transition,” Stackhouse said. “I thought we really shared the ball, got into the paint, guys were catching it ready to shoot – but it all stemmed from how we started on the defensive end and how we rebounded. We knew that this team was a dangerous team as far as all the guys going to the boards.
“For us to come out and win the rebounding battle, that’s something that we’ve struggled with early on in the season and that lets me know we’re improving there. Part of our defense finishing off is by getting the rebound and I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
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The Gamecocks never really made a run in the second half and found themselves down 26 with four minutes to go. Vanderbilt didn’t score the final 3:10 of the game and still put up 93 points thanks, in part, to 13 made 3s.
With a six-game losing skid now out of the way, the Commodores will look to start a winning streak when they travel to Texas A&M (8-7, 2-6 SEC) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. They’ll make that trip with a little bit of that mounted pressure having been relieved and some newfound confidence flowing into the month of February.
“We all were a little frustrated,” Stackhouse said. “I think it’s from the standpoint that we knew we were not giving ourselves the best chance to win – things that were controllable. Sometimes you can’t control the officiating, you can’t control the (opponent) making tough shots, but their were a number of things that we can control that we weren’t.
“Us coming out and doing those things tonight is proof that our work is paying off and I’m happy for those kids. They work hard. They finally get a chance to enjoy a Saturday night and let’s hope we get a chance to build off of that.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.