COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)—Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings looked square at star Derrick Byars as his players gathered around before overtime.
“Unless you start doing something,” Stallings told him, “We’ve got some problems here.”
Byars promptly responded, starting the extra period with two 3-pointers and the 19th-ranked Commodores outlasted South Carolina, 99-90, on Wednesday night.
Shan Foster added a career-high 33 points for Vanderbilt, which at 20-9, reached the 20-win mark for the third time in four years and, at 10-5 in the Southeastern Conference, locked up a bye as the Eastern Division’s second seed for next week’s league tournament.
Byars was only 2-for-9 from the field with 10 points, nearly seven fewer than his average coming in. His two 3-pointers gave Vanderbilt an 87-82 lead.
The Gamecocks (14-14, 4-11) couldn’t get closer than four points the rest of the way.
Byars finished with eight of his 18 points in the overtime as the Commodores won for the fourth time in five games.
“Fortunately, Derrick awoke right on time for us and got it going,” Stallings said.
Stallings said Byars might have been bothered by fatigue from finishing an academic assignment two nights ago. Byars said he was ready when it counted.
“Overtime and the second half is crunchtime and I look to step up and make big plays,” Byars said. “I think my teammates did a good job of looking for me and I wass able to come off a screen and make the shots.”
Early on, evevyone else on Vanderbilt made the shots.
The Commodores ran out to a 54-37 lead about a minute into the second half as they made 12 of 17 3-pointers.
But South Carolina fought back to lead 77-73 on Tre Kelley’s driving basket with 2:08 to go.
The Gamecocks were still ahead 81-79 when Kelley hit two foul shots in the final minute. But Foster put back Dan Cage’s missed 3-pointer with 19.6 seconds left to tie things.
South Carolina had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but dribbled out the remaining time without putting up a shot.
“We had our opportunities and didn’t cash in and that’s disappointing as heck,” Gamecocks coach Dave Odom said.
Byars quickly gained control of things with his two 3s. Vanderbilt finished with 16 3-pointers, the most in the SEC this season.
Kelley led the Gamecocks 32 points.
Kelley said his team’s rally “took a lot out of us because we were down by 17 and we had to play hard to come back from that.”
Coming in, the game was expected to feature a matchup of SEC player of the year candidates in Vanderbilt’s Byars and South Carolina’s Kelley. But the showdown took a backseat to the Commodores long-range shooting in the first half.
Vanderbilt went 11 of 16 on 3s in the opening half, a display of accuracy that South Carolina couldn’t keep up with despite seven 3-pointers of its own in the first 20 minutes.
Foster had three 3s and Dan Cage two as the Commodores went on a 24-10 run the last seven minutes of the half.
Brandis Raley-Ross his third 3 to put the Gamecocks up 25-23 with 7:21 remaining. Cage then began Vanderbilt’s charge with a 3. He hit his second of the spurt four minutes later to build the lead to 35-28.
Foster got involved late, making two 3-pointers in the final minute—the latter from about 25 feet with 1.5 seconds to go—that put his team up 47-35 at the break.
Vanderbilt couldn’t keep up its outside shooting touch in the second half, making only three 3s in the second half. Byars two 3-pointers in the overtime pushed Vanderbilt to its season high of 16 from behind the arc.
While Byars proved his worth in critical moments, Gamecocks coach Odom stumped for his star guard, Kelley, for the SEC’s top individual honor.
Kelley came in averaging 18.7 points a game. But he hasn’t scored fewer than 19 points his past seven games.
“If he’s not player of the year in this conference, shame on the people who vote,” Odom said. “I don’t care who hears me.”