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March 6, 2009

Box Score

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – South Carolina ended its season with a 49-39 loss to Mississippi State in the first round of the SEC Tournament at Alltel Arena Thursday night. The Gamecocks (10-18) jumped out to a big early lead but struggled to find the basket in the second half, hitting just 17.4 percent from the field to finish with 13 points in the last 20 minutes of the game. Mississippi State (22-8) advances to play No. 3 seed LSU in the second round Friday.

The Gamecocks exploded out of the gate, looking sharp on both sides of the ball. C.J. Pace opened things up with the game’s first five points on an inside move for a jumper from the left block and then a 3-pointer from the left baseline. Swarming defense and dominance of the defensive glass helped Carolina hold Mississippi State scoreless until the 9:26 mark of the first half. On the other side of the floor, relentless, aggressive moves to the basket set up mid-range and outside jumpers to spark an 18-0 run to start the game, including another 3-pointer from Pace. Jewel May added six points to the spurt with three solid drives to the basket.

Once the Lady Bulldogs got on the board, they did not stop, putting together a 19-2 run to narrow their deficit to one with just under three minutes left in the half. What had worked for the Gamecocks during their run worked against them just as well during Mississippi State’s surge. Pressure defensive left the Gamecocks scrambling to start their offense and frequently left them taking low percentage shots with the shot clock winding down. While the Lady Bulldogs limited the Gamecocks to one shot, they began taking care of their offensive boards as well. South Carolina extended the lead to seven with a 6-0 run started with Tonia Williams’ long jumper from the left baseline. Samone Kennedy added a pair of free throws, and Charenee Stephens stuck back a missed free throw to push the lead to 26-19 with 45 seconds to play.

After shooting 41.7 percent and taking a 26-20 lead into the locker room, the Gamecocks struggled early in the second half. Robin Porter’s putback put the Lady Bulldogs on top for the first time in the game, but Mississippi State was just beginning its 10-2 run to open the half. A free throw and a Chanel Mokango jumper from the right elbow capped the spurt and put the Lady Bulldogs in front 32-28 with just under 14 minutes left to play.

Lakeisha Sutton hit a free throw and a layup after driving the right baseline to pull the Gamecocks within one two minutes later. After the Lady Bulldogs extended their lead to 36-31, Sutton again went to work, scoring four straight points, and Miranda Tate capped the run with a 3-pointer from the left baseline to put the Gamecocks back on top 38-36 with 6:44 on the clock.

The Lady Bulldogs answered with Diamber Johnson’s long jumper from the left baseline, which knotted the game with 5:38 to go. After the teams exchanged missed baskets, Mokango broke the tie with a layup off a hard cut along the baseline. The Gamecocks had three shots on their next possession as Stephens battled on the boards but could not connect, and Alexis Rack put her team up by four with a driving layup at the 2:47 mark. May hit a free throw to cut it back to three points, but the Lady Bulldogs handled the Gamecocks’ pressure down the stretch to finish the game on a 7-0 run.

Both teams set South Carolina records for fewest points scored in an SEC Tournament game. No Gamecocks reached double figures as May and Sutton tied for team-high honors with nine points apiece. Stephens and Tate led the effort on the boards with five each, and Sutton handed out a team-high five assists.