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Nov. 29, 2008

Box Score

CANCUN, Mexico – South Carolina women’s basketball rallied for a nail-biting 57-54 win over UNC Wilmington to claim the title of the Cancun Thanksgiving Classic. Freshman LaKeisha Sutton, who earned a spot on the All-Tournament team, drove the lane with the shot clock winding down and hit what proved to be the game-winning shot with 26 seconds left. The Gamecock defense stepped up in the final seconds, and sophomore Jewel May secured the final rebound and hit a free throw to seal the win.

In the first half, Carolina shot a sparkling 50 percent from the field but was plagued by 11 turnovers, leading to the 25-22 halftime deficit. The teams traded one- and two-point leads throughout the half until Lauren Falohun knotted the game at 17-17 with a driving layup with 4:26 left in the half. Freshman Miranda Tate gave the Gamecocks a three-point lead with a 3-pointer from the right sideline.

UNC Wilmington answered with a 3-pointer from Treasure Johnson on the next possession. That bucket kicked off an 8-0 run for the Seahawks, yielding a five-point lead – the largest margin for either team in the half. Brionna Dickerson, who was named Tournament MVP, cut into the lead with a jumper from the right elbow just before heading into the locker room.

The Gamecocks handled the ball better in the second half, turning it over just seven times to make up ground on the Seahawks. The game was tied 13 times as neither team could wrest control of the contest. The Gamecocks twice extended to a four-point lead only to see UNCW storm back.

After Dickerson knotted the game at 51-51 with a free throw at the 4:28 mark, the Seahawks took their last lead of the game on a pull-up jumper from Greta Luksyte, who tied for team-high honors with 14 points. May netted her second bucket of the game, a put back on a critical offensive rebound, to put the Gamecocks back on top 54-53 with 2:01 remaining.

The Seahawks had a shot to surge ahead, but Sheronda McLean hit just one of her two free throws at the 1:54 mark, and again, it was May who secured the rebound. Each team missed shots on its next possession, which set up the Gamecocks in the final 30 seconds. After a time out, Sutton organized the offense, which was stymied by an aggressive Seahawk defense. Sutton took the ball in her own hands with the shot clock winding down, drove the right side of the lane and kissed an impossible shot off the backboard for a 56-54 lead. UNCW called a timeout to set up a play, but the Gamecock defense forced Sashsa Taylor into an awkward jumper, which May picked off the rim. After she was fouled with 3.7 seconds remaining, May hit 1-of-2 free throws to seal the victory.

South Carolina finished the night with a season-high .435 field goal percentage and won the battle of the boards 38-25. May’s seven rebounds came at critical times, but it was C.J. Pace who did yeoman’s work on the backboards, pulling in a career-high 11 on the night. Dickerson finished the night with a game-high 15 points, hitting 6-of-13 from the floor. Sutton finished with 12 points to go with her five steals.

South Carolina returns to the United States Sunday morning and will head to Wake Forest for an 11 a.m. contest with the Demon Deacons on Wed., Dec. 3.