COLUMBIA - After the alma mater was sung and South Carolina players had circled the court to clap high-fives with fans, Sindarius Thornwell could exhale.
It's been a long season for the Gamecocks men's basketball team.
The losses have piled up, leading to weighty frustrations. On Thursday, the freshman guard and his teammates got a much-needed reprieve.
South Carolina beat Vanderbilt, 65-59, before an announced crowd of 9,829, snapping a three-game losing streak. The Gamecocks (9-15, 2-9 SEC) won only their second game since Jan. 3. Thornwell soaked up the welcomed break from the norm.
"It feels good to finally come here and smile," Thornwell said, smiling in the postgame media room. "All the times we come in here, we frown or we're sad about blowing a lead or (how we) messed up or something. So it feels good to finally come here and smile."
Thornwell led South Carolina with 19 points, six rebounds and six assists. He received high praise from Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, who called the freshman the "best player on the court."
Stallings thanked South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner and coach Frank Martin for their courtesy during a one-day postponement because of the winter storm that passed through Columbia this week. In the next breath, Stallings reserved a tongue lashing for his team.
"It was very simple," Stallings said. "Frank's team played a lot harder than my team did. Played with better purpose, played with more fire, played with more energy, played with more toughness. Really, I don't think the six-point differential was indicative of how badly they outplayed us."
South Carolina's effort was nothing new. Through losing streaks and disappointments, the Gamecocks' group of youngsters have fought enough to make Martin proud.
On Thursday, they got a different result.
"We don't pay attention to it, but when you lose, everyone knows you lose," Martin said. "I know we lose, the players know we lose, but that's why I'm proud of them. They don't pay attention to all that outside noise. They're locked on one thing, and that's coming in here and working every day.
"Sindarius has kind of led the charge when it comes to that. He hasn't allowed outcomes of games to impact how he prepares and how he grows as a player. That's allowed the other guys on the team to have someone to follow."
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