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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina made up for a slow start with tough defense in the second half.
This is a new group of Gamecocks.
Sindarius Thornwell had 19 points and eight rebounds, and No. 22 South Carolina rallied for a 69-65 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Mindaugas Kacinas added 13 points for the Gamecocks (15-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference), who limited the Commodores to just six field goals in the second half. South Carolina outrebounded Vanderbilt 44-36 and held the Commodores to just 33 percent shooting.
South Carolina and SMU are the only unbeaten teams left in Division I. But it didn't look very good for the Gamecocks early on, with the Commodores jumping to an 8-0 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers for Luke Kornet and a putback for Damien Jones.
"In the past, it would have gotten ugly. Eight would have turned into 16," Thornwell said.
The Gamecocks have finished with a losing record in five of the past six seasons. But this time, they steadied themselves and slowly climbed back in it.
South Carolina grabbed its first lead on PJ Dozier's floater with 10:54 left. Dozier then hit a reverse layup as the rare near-sellout crowd at Colonial Life Center roared.
Vanderbilt (8-7, 0-3) missed 19 of its last 22 shots.
"We missed layups and wide-open 3s. It just wouldn't go in the basket in the second half," coach Kevin Stallings said.
Riley Lachance and Wade Baldwin IV each had 13 points for Vanderbilt.
The early eight-point deficit was the largest South Carolina had faced all season. The Gamecocks also trailed for 19:45 of the first half, which was more time than they had been behind in any game.
"That was a lot of fun now that it is over," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said.
After three tough years at South Carolina with a team that hasn't finished better than 11th in the SEC, Martin is finally having fun again.
"They've got me on a ride right now that is unreal," Martin said.
Vanderbilt was picked to finish second in the SEC this season, but is now 0-3 in the league and just a game over .500.
Stallings said his team is losing confidence after the poor second half. When asked what he could do to get that confidence back, he paused for a second.
"I don't know," said Stallings, in his 17th season with Vanderbilt. "That's a good question."
Vanderbilt: Kornet returned to the starting lineup for the first time since injuring his knee in practice Dec. 8. He scored eight points. ... Vanderbilt is 0-3 in the SEC for the first time since 2013.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks' 15-0 start is their best since the 1933-34 season. ... This is only the third time in 25 SEC seasons the Gamecocks have started with two league wins.
Vanderbilt hosts Auburn on Tuesday night.
South Carolina travels to Alabama on Wednesday night.
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