COLUMBIA -- Sometimes, the most valuable lessons come with a price. Fortunately for the Gamecocks, what Melvin Watson learned in the final seconds Wednesday night didn't cost them a victory.
"I should have known better, I got caught up in the flow of the game and we didn't need the shot," said the Gamecocks' senior guard after South Carolina won its 16th straight conference home game by defeating Vanderbilt 71-70 at Frank McGuire Arena. "I guess we were just meant to win that game. I'm happy. I learned from it, and if I'm ever in that situation again, I promise I'll keep the ball in my hands until I get fouled."
With the ball and a one-point lead, Watson's floater missed and Vanderbilt's Billy DiSpaltro pulled down the key rebound with 4.5 seconds to go. DiSpaltro tossed a perfect outlet pass to Drew Maddux, who stood downcourt unguarded with a clear path to the potential game-winning layup.
But Maddux mishandled the pass, the ball went out of bounds with .3 seconds, and Watson and the Gamecocks heaved a sigh of relief.
"(Maddux) was wide open, I still can't believe he missed it," said Watson, who finished with 13 points and six assists. "I thanked him after the game. I told him how much we appreciated that."
Coach Eddie Fogler was happy, as well.
"We were fortunate at the end," said Fogler, whose Gamecocks were coming off an 11-point loss to Ole Miss on Saturday, their worst SEC loss in the past two seasons. South Carolina shot 36 percent against the Rebels and committed a season-high 24 turnovers. "We didn't play smart in the last 20 seconds. We weren't very smart down the stretch. But I
think we still played much better than we did at Ole Miss."
Despite a turnover-filled first half, poor shooting throughout from leading scorer BJ McKie and the continued lack of inside scoring, South Carolina improved to 9-2, 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference. The win gave the Gamecocks their best 11-game start since the 1970-71 team opened 10-1.
Better, perhaps in contrast to the poor showing at Ole Miss, but the Gamecocks struggled against aggressive zone defense by Vanderbilt (11-4, 0-2 SEC).
McKie, averaging 18.2 points coming in, had the most difficulty. He finished with 13 points on 2-for-13 shooting, including 0-for-7 from 3-point range.
In the first half, when he went 0-for-6, a pair of bad misses helped open the floodgates for Vandy, when the Commodores' 12-0 run gave them a 30-28 lead with 3:51 remaining.
"It was just another one of those nights, the shots haven't been falling for me lately," said McKie, who shot 23 percent from the floor and scored a season-low 11 points against Ole Miss. "It's just one of those things, but I thought as a team we played much better tonight. You know the team's doing the job when the leading scorer has a night like I had and we still win."