By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
A.J. Lawson hit two free throws with 23.1 seconds left, and the South Carolina Gamecocks rallied from a 12-point deficit in the second half to beat Vanderbilt 74-71 Wednesday night to remain perfect in Southeastern Conference play.
Saben Lee’s 15 footer that could have given Vanderbilt the lead bounced off the rim with five seconds left. Hassani Gravett sealed the victory with two more free throws with 2 seconds left.
South Carolina (9-7, 4-0) came in having won its first three SEC games for only the third time since joining the conference. This time, the Gamecocks led for less than 2 minutes early and never by more than two until the final seconds.
Lawson finished with 24 points for the Gamecocks, and Gravett scored all of his 17 in the second half. Keyshawn Bryant added 13 on a night where Chris Silva, South Carolina’s leading scorer, finished with a season-low two points after foul trouble limited him to 13 minutes.
Vanderbilt (9-7) now is 0-4 in SEC play for the first time in program history.
The Commodores led 68-63 when officials called a technical on Saben Lee for celebrating blocking Gravett’s shot at the basket. Gravett hit both free throws with 1:38 to go, then added a 3 tying it up at 68 with 1:12 left.
Simisola Shittu hit a free throw and missed the second for Vandy’s last lead at 71-70 with 29.8 seconds left. South Carolina finished it off at the line.
Aaron Nesmith scored a career-high 23 points for Vanderbilt. The native of Charleston, South Carolina, and South Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2018 opened by hitting his first five shots, including his first four 3-pointers, in helping Vanderbilt lead by as much as 12 in the first half and 39-29 at halftime.
Lee finished with 17 points, and Shittu had 13.
After the teams combined for 26 fouls in the first half, pace of play slowed even more in the second half with foul after foul called. Five Commodores and five Gamecocks had at least three fouls apiece with 15:00 left with each team trying almost as many free throws as shots from the floor. The game finished with a combined 55 fouls.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks came in fourth in the SEC averaging 81 points per game in league play. They finally got into a rhythm shooting just in time, hitting five of seven as they made a 12-2 run to whittle away Vandy’s lead.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores are second-best in the SEC at getting to the free throw line and making shots. But they struggled mightily at the line against South Carolina, and none worse than Lee. He was 9 of 16 at the line, not counting all the back ends he didn’t get to try after missing his first chances. Vanderbilt missed a season-high shots at the line, going 24 of 37 (64.9 percent).
South Carolina: Visits LSU on Saturday.
Vanderbilt: Hosts No. 23 Mississippi State on Saturday night.