COLUMBIA - South Carolina's 57-49 win over Vanderbilt on Wednesday was as ugly as wins come. But when you're slogging through the rugged Southeastern Conference, aesthetics don't mean much.
"An ugly win is definitely better than a loss," Gamecocks forward David Ross said. "We'll take a `W' any way we can get it."
This win, which came before 9,878 at Carolina Coliseum and snapped a two-game losing streak, came with a cost. Sophomore swingman Chuck Eidson left late in the first half with a strained right knee and returned after halftime out of uniform and on crutches; sophomore center Tony Kitchings, a South Aiken High graduate, was taken to a nearby hospital following the game to check for fractured ribs.
Eidson, whom Fogler said struggled with his ailing knee for the previous 10 days, was to undergo an MRI today to determine the extent of the injury. Kitchings was having trouble breathing, and his status will be determined today as well.
"Injuries are all part of the game," said Ross, who scored five points and snared five rebounds. "Other people have got to step up and make plays. Our goal doesn't change just because Chuck or Tony gets hurt. We're still there to win the game; other people just have to chip in."
Wednesday, those other people were led by freshman forward Rolando Howell, who scored a career-high 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting and pulled down five rebounds for the Gamecocks (10-5, 2-2 SEC), who averted a loss that would have dealt an early but direct blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes.
"Playing on the road is kind of difficult for this team," said Howell, whose Gamecocks were coming off defeats at Tennessee and Kentucky. "We have to take advantage of the home opportunities, and we did that tonight."
The Gamecocks did it with defense. After Commodores guard Sam Howard scored to put his team up 43-35 with 12:51 left, South Carolina tightened the clamps and outscored Vanderbilt 22-6 from there until the end.
The Commodores (12-4, 2-2) shot 45 percent in the first half but were held to 32 percent on 10-of-31 shooting thereafter. The Commodores were held scoreless for the final 4:47.
Seven of Howell's 13 points came after intermission, and he was 5-of-7 from the free-throw line. Point guard Aaron Lucas scored 10 of his 12 points after the break and sank six of his eight tries from the line.
Howard scored a game-high 18 points for the Commodores, whose confusing mix of zone defenses helped hold the Gamecocks to 36 percent shooting from the field.
"His goal was to try to play mind games with our shooters," Gamecocks coach Eddie Fogler said of counterpart Kevin Stallings.
Fogler, whose team plays host to Auburn at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, labeled it a "dull, lackluster performance.
"We continue to struggle shooting the basketball," he said.
Eidson's injury capped perhaps his most miserable night as a Gamecock. He shot three air balls in the first 9:38, and he took a perfect pass from Howell and missed an open layup with 7:05 left.
"Obviously, a lot of our struggle shooting the ball is mental," said Fogler, whose team entered the game last in the SEC in field-goal percentage. "I think we'll work through it."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.