COLUMBIA -- Coming off a lackluster defensive performance in Saturday's loss to LSU, South Carolina men's basketball team tonight faces the challenge of trying to slow down the Southeastern Conference's top two scorers on their home floor: Vanderbilt's John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor.
If the Gamecocks (10-16, 2-10 SEC) can't do that well enough, they will move closer -- with three regular season games remaining after tonight -- to finishing the season with two league wins for the first time since 1985-86, when they went 2-10 in the Metro Conference.
Unless USC somehow wins out in the regular season and wins two games in the SEC tournament, it will finish with a losing overall record for the third straight year -- something that hasn't happened since the Gamecocks had four straight losing seasons from 1991-95.
Getting past the two-win mark in SEC play tonight will require USC's guards playing attentive defense against Jenkins, a junior guard who is averaging 19.1 points against conference opponents. Taylor, a senior wing player, is averaging 18.2 points.
Vanderbilt ranks second in the SEC in field goal percentage (46.9), while USC is 11th in the 12-team league in field goal percentage defense (47.9). On Saturday, LSU shot 57.7 percent against USC in the second half of a 68-58 win.
Vanderbilt won its first meeting with USC, 67-57, last month, as Jenkins scored 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting (including 4-of-8 on 3-pointers) and Taylor scored 11 on 4-of-6 shooting (3 of 4 on 3s).
USC's leading scorer, senior forward Malik Cooke, said that in order to limit Jenkins, "you've pretty much just got to try to stay attached to him at all times and at least have a hand up on him (when he shoots). He's going to make some difficult shots, from what I've seen."
USC coach Darrin Horn said Jenkins' efficiency as a scorer makes him particularly difficult to defend. He is shooting 48.9 percent in league games -- ninth in the SEC, second among guards.
Horn has been displeased at times with his team's perimeter defense. The Gamecocks rank last in the SEC in 3-point defense in league play (40.9 percent), while Vanderbilt leads the league by shooting 43.6 percent on 3-pointers. In all games, USC's 3-point defense isn't much better -- 39 percent, which ranks 327th of 338 teams in Division I.
On average, the Commodores are making 9 of 21 3-pointers in league play. They hit 13 of 22 against USC last month. Taylor and Jenkins are No. 1 and 3 in the SEC in 3-point shooting -- 57.1 and 48.5 percent.
"I think it's a situation where we've just got to be a little bit more aggressive," Horn said of USC's perimeter defense. "This is a game where that's going to be tested because they are so skilled on the perimeter and they pass the ball so well."
USC's inconsistent perimeter defense in its 2-3 matchup zone defense, which Horn installed this season, is one of many drawbacks to having a roster with just one senior and one junior.
"I think the reason you see the inconsistency is we've got guys that we need to grow up," Horn said. "And it can't happen as fast as we would like for it to."
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