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Dec. 28, 2009

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PHILADELPHIA – South Carolina fell just short of last-second heroics in a 68-67 loss to Boston University in the second game of the Saint Joseph’s Hawk Classic this afternoon at Hagan Arena. Junior Valerie Nainima netted 29 points, but 22 turnovers and 53.8 percent free throw shooting put the Gamecocks (6-5) in a deficit from which they could ultimately not recover.

The Terriers took a six-point lead into halftime thanks in large part a 12-0 run with just under 13 minutes left in the period, which erased a seven-point Gamecock lead. South Carolina was whistled for three fouls and committed seven turnovers during the stretch. A jumper from Ebony Wilson stemmed the tide, and the Gamecocks reclaimed the lead, 19-18, on consecutive Nainima buckets and a driving layup from La’Keisha Sutton with six minutes to go in the half. The Terriers answered with an 8-0 spurt behind solid defensive rebounding and steady free throw shooting. Their lead grew to nine points, but Nainima hit a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer.

Both teams had a steady parade to the free throw line in the second half, which helped the Terriers tame the aggressive Gamecock defensive effort. BU pushed its lead into double digits at 43-32 with 13:19 left in the game, when Nainima and Sutton went to work. A 3-pointer from Nainima and a pair of free throws from Sutton pulled it back to a six-point margin at the 11:12 mark. The Gamecocks could get no closer, however as the Terriers found their way through the pressure defense and held their own on the glass.

After a pair of free throws from Chantell Alford made it a 52-44 game with 8:29 to go, Charenee Stephens put back a Sutton missed free throw to pull within six points. On the other end, Alex Young missed a 3-pointer and Sutton found Ieasia Walker ahead of the pack for a transition layup to draw within four points. Walker then netted a pair of free throws for a two-point game with 7:47 left to play. Aly Hinton brought momentum right back to the Terriers with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, and the lead would balloon back to eight three minutes later.

The Gamecocks had one more push left, and it began just before the two-minute mark. Young’s baseline jumper put BU up by seven, 62-55, with just over three minutes to go. After forcing a Terrier turnover, the Gamecocks cut the lead nearly in half with a Nainima 3-pointer on the right sideline. Kelsey Bone rebounded a missed free throw from Caitlynn Moran, and Nainima again drained a 3-pointer for a 64-63 deficit with 1:56 on the clock.

Moran found the bucket on a step-back jumper to put BU back up by three with 1:31 to go. Both teams missed shots on their next possessions, but Bone snagged another defensive rebound and Nainima found Sutton streaking ahead of the back for a layup. She hit the bucket and a foul sent her crashing head first into the bleachers on the baseline. Walker stepped to the line in place of her teammate, but could not knot the game.

Inside the final 20 seconds, the Gamecocks had another chance to take the lead when Stephens pulled down a defensive rebound and found Nainima bounding up the center of the court. She drove into traffic and could not connect on a bucket amidst the flailing defenders. Moran hit a pair of free throws to stretch the BU lead back to three with eight seconds to go. The Gamecocks drew up an inbounds play for Nainima, Sutton or Walker, but could not find any of them to go for the tie.

Bone finished with a career-high 15 rebounds, but hit just 1-of-10 from the field to finish with five points. Sutton netted 15, and Walker added 10 points to the effort.

South Carolina will play Brown in the consolation game of the tournament on Tue., Dec. 29, at 2 p.m.