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Jan. 8, 2009

Box Score | Quotes

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina battled down to the wire with No. 9/8 Auburn only to see the Tigers escape Colonial Life Arena with an 80-76 victory Thursday night in the SEC opener for both teams. The Gamecocks (8-6, 0-1 SEC) fought back from a 10-point deficit with five minutes left in the game, twice narrowing the gap to two points with under 15 seconds, but Auburn (16-0, 1-0 SEC) was solid at the free-throw line to seal the narrow victory. Three Gamecocks scored 17 points or more, including senior Brionna Dickerson who netted a season-high 19 points, including 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.

The Gamecocks asserted themselves early behind senior Demetress Adams, who took her versatile game right to the Tigers’ frontline. Adams single-handedly gave Carolina 6-1 lead, including a pair of long jump shots. After a time out, Auburn put together its first of several six-point runs in the game to go ahead 7-6 on DeWanna Bonner’s traditional 3-point play. That play at the 13:51 mark of the half also sent Adams to the bench with her second foul.

South Carolina did not fold with its primary offensive threat on the bench, opening a 16-9 lead with a 7-0 run sparked by Dickerson’s 3-pointer from the left wing. Auburn pulled back within one with another 6-0 surge by crashing the boards and hitting free throws. The teams traded baskets through the remainder of the half, and the Gamecocks took a 31-29 lead into the locker room.

The break sparked the Tiger offense, which would end up shooting 61.3 percent in the second half, and they scored the half’s first six points for a 35-31 margin, taking advantage of Carolina turnovers. Dickerson ended the spurt with a long jump shot, and Auburn’s Sherell Hobbs sank a short jumper in the lane for a 37-33 Tiger lead at the 17:15 mark. Carolina answered on the defensive end with Adams’ block of Alli Smalley’s shot led to a quick jumper on the other end for freshman Lakeisha Sutton. Adams knotted the game for the seventh time on the next possession, converting a traditional three-point play.

Again the Tigers came back with a 6-0 surge as Whitney Boddie pulled up for a short jumper in the lane, Bonner stuck back an offensive rebound and Smalley finished a layup after Hobbs swiped a steal on the other end. Trailing 37-43 with 12:48 to play, the Gamecocks continued to battle and made good headway at the free-throw line as seven of their next 10 points would come from the charity stripe, but the Auburn offense had found its stride and was able to hold the Gamecocks at bay over the next three minutes. The Gamecocks finally managed back-to-back baskets on Sutton’s two free throws and Dickerson’s 3-pointer from the right side, giving Carolina a 48-47 lead with 9:33 on the clock.

Challenged again, Auburn answered by clamping down on defense and crashing the boards. Ahead 52-51, the Tigers’ key players strung together an 8-0 run started by a pair of free throws from Bonner. Boddie hit another short jumper in the lane, and Bonner added two quick buckets for a 60-51 lead with 6:45 left to play.

The Gamecocks would not quit fighting, though, and forced Auburn to earn everything down the stretch. Sutton and Jewel May pressured the Tiger defense and cut the lead back to five with 3:08 on the clock. After Bonner hit just 1-of-2 free throws, Adams netted a traditional three-point play to pull the Gamecocks within three with 2:28 to play. The Auburn lead twice ballooned back up to seven points, the second occurrence coming on a pair of Smalley free throws to give the Tigers a 76-69 margin with 26 seconds in the game.

Battling down to the wire for the second-straight game, the Gamecocks responded with a three-point play from Dickerson to cut the margin to four points. Playing the in-bounds aggressively, Samone Kennedy swiped a steal and soared in for a layup to slice the Gamecocks’ deficit to 74-76 with 13 seconds remaining. With the shot clock off, however, the Gamecocks were forced to foul, and Smalley and Bonner sealed the game with two free throws each.

Adams and Sutton joined Dickerson in double figures, scoring 17 points each, and senior C.J. Pace led the way on the glass for Carolina with seven rebounds. The Gamecocks forced the Tigers into two more turnovers than the home team committed but lost the battle of the boards 26-36.

South Carolina returns to action on Sun., Jan. 11, for a 2:30 p.m. tipoff at Georgia. The Gamecocks then return to Colonial Life Arena on Thu., Jan. 15, to take on No. 18/19 Florida at 7 p.m.