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Feb. 8, 2009

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina erased a seven-point deficit late and took a one-point lead in the final nine seconds only to come up just short in a 66-65 loss to Ole Miss Sunday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena. Aggressive defense forced a series of Rebel turnovers for a 6-0 Gamecock (9-13, 1-8 SEC) run at the three-minute mark, and freshman Lakeisha Sutton scored the last of her 19 points on a pair of free throws to give the Gamecocks the thinnest of leads with nine seconds left on the clock. The Rebels (15-9, 4-5 SEC) struggled to get the ball up the court, but Shantell Black found a sliver of daylight in a trap just across midcourt and delivered a pass to Elizabeth Robertson at the basket for the game-winning layup at the buzzer.

The Gamecocks were firing early in the game before a barrage of 3-pointers, seven in the first half, helped Ole Miss build a lead that grew to 14 points three times in the first half. Trailing by that margin at 32-18 with 4:53 left in the period, sophomore Jewel May sparked a 12-2 run with a driving layup and a free throw. Shawn Goff pushed the lead back to 13 points with a layup, but it would be the last Rebel bucket of the half. Courtney Newton hit a mid-range jumper then hit a pair of free throws to get the deficit under 10 for the first time since the 10-minute mark. Tonia Williams drove for a layup then closed the half with a Hail Mary 3-pointer from just across midcourt to pull the Gamecocks within 30-34 at the break.

Sutton opened the second half with a layup to draw within two, but the Rebels extended their lead out to nine points on back-to-back 3-pointers from Robertson and Katorra Lewis for a 50-41 edge with 12:27 left in the game. The lead hovered around eight for the next four minutes until C.J. Pace hit a 3-pointer from the left wing and May tapped in an offensive rebound to draw within three points at 53-56 with 6:33 left to play.

Again, the Rebels found a little breathing room with consecutive buckets from Bianca Thomas and Kayla Melson. After Melson’s second layup off a turnover gave Ole Miss a 62-55 lead with 3:18 on the clock, the Gamecocks ratcheted up the defense. Lauren Falohun hit a jumper from the right elbow, and Carolina set up the press. Sutton gambled as the ball went to the middle of the floor and poked it away from Black. Samone Kennedy fought for the loose ball and sprinted down the floor for a layup, cutting the lead to three. Again the pressure produced a steal, this one from May as Black tried to loft a pass over the top of the pressure. Sutton put back her own miss to make it a 61-62 game with 2:22 on the clock.

On the in-bounds play, Newton came away with a steal on the baseline, but the Gamecocks returned the favor with a turnover and a foul. Robertson hit a pair of free throws with just under two minutes to play. Carolina forced turnovers of the next two Ole Miss possessions but could not convert on the other end. With under 30 second to play, the Gamecocks sent Bianca Thomas to the free throw line, where she missed the front end of a one-and-one. Newton secured the rebound, and Sutton drove the lane to again make it a one-point game with 18 seconds to play. The Gamecock freshman swiped her third steal of the game on the Ole Miss in-bounds pass and was fouled on the play.

After Sutton calmly hit both free throws to put Carolina on top for the first time since four minutes into the game, the Gamecocks again set up their defense. The pressure forced Black up the right sideline, and a pair of Gamecocks converged on her just across midcourt. The Rebels’ junior point guard found Robertson alone on the left block a delivered the requisite perfect pass to set up the game winner.

Sutton’s 19 points led four Gamecocks in double figures as Newton netted a season-high 12 points and Williams and May added 11 and 10, respectively. Sutton tied her career high with seven assists as well, and Newton picked up a career-high four steals. May grabbed a team-high eight rebounds, including four on the offensive end. Thomas led the Rebels with 20 points, including four 3-pointers, nine rebounds and four steals.

The Gamecocks are back on the road this week with an 8 p.m. (ET) game at Arkansas on Thu., Feb. 12.