NASHVILLE, Tenn. - South Carolina had been having problems with Vanderbilt's defense before Gamecocks coach Eddie Fogler gave junior guard Melvin Watson some simple advice.
"We couldn't penetrate through their zone all night, but I just said to Melvin `Just go,"' Fogler said.
The advice worked as Watson worked into the lane and hit a leaning jumper with 16 seconds left that gave the 25th-ranked Gamecocks a 65-64 victory Wednesday night to extend their winning streak to nine games.
"That was one ugly basketball game," Fogler said. "We definitely looked out of synch, and Vanderbilt's defense had a lot to do with it."
Watson's jumper marked the third straight road game the Gamecocks have won this season in the final seconds. South Carolina (14-5, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) also beat Florida and Alabama with last-second shots earlier this month.
Larry Davis led South Carolina with 18 points, while Watson added 14, Nate Wilbourne 13 and BJ McKie 11.
South Carolina also won for only the second time in 10 visits to Memorial Gym, and the Gamecocks matched the winning streak of nine straight by the 1972-73 squad.
But Fogler wasn't happy even with the victory.
"Would you rather play great and lose or don't and win? The truth is, you'd rather play great and lose. We were fortunate here tonight," Fogler said.
His Gamecocks shot the ball well from both the field (48.8 percent) and the free throw line (19-of-20). But they turned the ball over 23 times and failed to hold onto a seven-point lead in the second half.
The Gamecocks led 39-26 on a layup by McKie with 17:23 to play. Then they allowed Vandy to creep back by going scoreless for more than six minutes before Wilbourne hit two free throws for a 38-37 lead at the 10:58 mark.
Vandy took advantage of the Gamecocks' shooting problems and led 48-43 with 8:22 left on a layup by Austin Bates, but the teams swapped the lead seven times with five ties down the stretch.
The Gamecocks didn't put the victory away until Drew Maddux's 3-pointer bounced off the back rim and Pax Whitehead's putback missed just before the buzzer for Vanderbilt (11-8, 3-5).
Maddux led Vanderbilt with 18 points, while Bates had 14 and Billy DiSpaltro 13.
The Commodores have lost three straight in the SEC.
"You're going to play your hearts out in a lot of games," Vanderbilt coach Jan van Breda Kolff said. "This was one of them. A win would have lifted our spirits. But, we have to regroup and try to make something happen at Florida."
Maddux started quickly for Vanderbilt, scoring nine of the Commodores' first 13 points. But the first half turned spurty as South Carolina went on a 10-0 run before Vandy countered with its own 12-0 stretch capped by Maddux's layup off a steal by Whitehead for a 20-12 lead.
South Carolina whittled away at Vandy's lead and finally went ahead 25-24 with 1:34 left on a 3pointer by Davis. Wilbourne hit a couple of inside baskets that gave the Gamecocks a 29-26 halftime lead.