Nov. 28, 2009
ST. THOMAS, U.S.V.I. – Sophomore Charenee Stephens’ career-high 20 points powered South Carolina to a 58-55 win over No. 23 San Diego State in the Gamecocks’ final game of the Paradise Jam at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center. With Stephens’ offensive effort, the Gamecocks (3-3) scored a win over a nationally ranked team for the first time since a 79-61 win over then-No. 14 Minnesota on Dec. 13, 2005.
The game was one of runs by both teams with neither squad building more than a seven-point margin at any point. The Gamecocks were the first to put together a significant surge when Stephens’ move on the right block knotted the game 11-11 with 12:11 left in the first half. The sophomore forward stuck back an offensive rebound after consecutive turnovers by the Aztecs, then closed her personal 6-0 spurt with another move on the right block with the shot clock winding down.
San Diego State chipped away at the Gamecocks’ 15-11 lead, tying the game at 20-20 with a pair of free throws from Quenese Davis, but South Carolina took a 26-24 edge into the locker room at halftime on La’Keisha Sutton’s baseline drive at the end of the half.
The second half shaped up much like the first with South Carolina surging ahead by seven points just three minutes into the period. Following a pair of Jewel May free throws, three straight steals led to easy buckets on the other end and a 34-27 South Carolina lead. The Aztecs answered with a 9-0 spurt of their own, also capitalizing on their opponents’ miscues to take a 36-34 lead with 13:25 to go.
The Gamecocks would not allow the Aztecs to pull ahead again, but San Diego State would not let South Carolina pull away, tying the game eight different times in the second half alone.
When Jene Morris drove the lane to tie the game 46-46 with a tick under five minutes left, took advantage of overly-aggressive defense from the Aztecs to build a six-point lead at the free throw line. Alleviating the agony of a previous Achilles heel, Valerie Nainima, Stephens and Sutton buried six straight from the charity stripe to take a 52-46 edge into the final 2:33 of the game.
San Diego State continued to battle the young Gamecocks, beginning with Allison Duffy’s traditional three-point play to cut its deficit in half with just under two minutes to go. Nainima sank two more free throws, which Davis answered with another traditional three-point play with 45 seconds to go.
The Aztecs pressured Nainima, looking for a steal, but the wily junior eluded her defenders and fired a bullet pass to Stephens, whose layup from the right block pushed the lead back to four with 30 seconds remaining. On the other end, Jerica Williams got loose for a 3-pointer, bringing the Aztecs within one at 56-55 with 19 seconds left. Again, SDSU pressured Nainima in the backcourt, and again, she wriggled free of the trio of defenders to race up court and find Sutton streaking toward the basket for the clinching layup with under 10 seconds to play. Williams fired a desperation 3-pointer from the right wing, but it bounced out.
The Gamecocks had a more balanced shooting game, hitting 46.7 percent from the field and 87.5 percent from the free throw line, including 90.9 percent accuracy in the crucial second half. Nainima and Sutton joined Stephens in double figures, netting 11 and 10 points, respectively. Stephens was also the Gamecocks’ leading rebounder with eight boards.
South Carolina opens a three-game home stand on Dec. 2 against High Point. Tipoff at Colonial Life Arena is set for 11 a.m.