Jermaine Beal will likely leave Vanderbilt without winning a single SEC regular-season title, but he still will have been a part of more wins than any player in school history.
Beal will make his final start at Memorial Gym on Saturday as the 13th-ranked Commodores take on South Carolina in hopes of making the SEC regular-season race interesting in its final days.
Kentucky has already clinched the No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament because it owns the tiebreaker over Vanderbilt (23-6, 12-3), but the Commodores could earn a share of the regular-season title with a win Saturday and a loss by the Wildcats against Florida on Sunday.
The added intrigue will make the final game for Beal even more interesting. Beal, who averages a team-high 14.5 points, will leave as the winningest four-year player in school history, having already been on hand for 90 wins, including 67 as a starter. Previously, the program’s most successful stretch was from 1965-68, when the team totaled 87 wins.
The last few victories certainly haven’t come easily, however. The Commodores have won six of their last seven, but four of the last five have been decided by fewer than five points, including a 64-60 win at Florida on Tuesday. Vanderbilt trailed by five midway through the second half but ended the game on a 7-1 run.
John Jenkins scored 18 points and hit three 3-pointers in the final six minutes. He finished 6 of 9 beyond the arc and has averaged 15.0 points in the last three games while shooting 11 of 17 from 3-point range.
“He made some difficult shots,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “He made some shots with hands in his face. He is a great shooter. He was in a little bit of a zone tonight.”
Beal had 13 points in the win, bouncing back after being held to six points in the previous game. Playing in front of the home fans, he’ll look for a better performance than the last time he faced South Carolina. Beal had 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting in the 89-79 road win Jan. 16. He scored 27 in a home victory over South Carolina last season.
Vanderbilt, which is 14-1 at Memorial Gym, has won three straight at home over South Carolina (14-15, 5-10).
The Gamecocks are looking to snap a six-game skid - their longest losing streak since a seven-game slide Jan. 11-Feb. 5, 2003. They are coming off a 79-70 loss to Alabama on Wednesday. South Carolina led by three at the half but shot 34.4 percent after the break.
Devan Downey, the SEC’s leading scorer, finished with 23 points and had three steals to set the South Carolina career mark with 273.
“Obviously it’s frustrating, especially a game like tonight when you’re home and come out like you want to,” coach Darrin Horn said. “You have the chance to get the seniors a win at home and break the streak but … the bigger challenge is moving forward.”
Horn’s team ends the season on the road where it is 1-9 with six straight losses. South Carolina has been outscored by 34 points in its last two contests away from home.
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