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Feb. 24, 2011

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BATON ROUGE, La. – A game that meant so much to both teams in terms of seeding in next week’s SEC Tournament needed overtime to be decided, and South Carolina came up just short in a 54-51 loss at LSU in women’s basketball action Thursday night. Late-game free throws cost the Gamecocks (16-12, 8-7 SEC) as the Lady Tigers (18-11, 8-7 SEC) rallied to take knot the game in the final minute. LSU took its first lead since the game’s first two minutes on Taylor Turnbow’s long jump shot with 2:08 left in overtime, and the Lady Tigers would not relinquish it.

Offensive lulls for both teams defined the first half of play. South Carolina was first to put the defensive clamps on, yielding just five points to the Lady Tigers through the game’s first 11 minutes, thanks to turnovers and taking care of the defensive glass. The Gamecock offense, meanwhile, was putting together a 16-0 run that included points from four different players. Ashley Bruner kicked off the surge with a traditional three-point play, and Markeshia Grant cleaned up a busted offensive set with a layup for an 11-5 Gamecock advantage. Ieasia Walker came off the bench to net the next five points, and Bruner’s baseline drive made it an 18-5 margin. La’Keisha Sutton capped the surge, which included 7-of-9 field goal shooting, with a pair of drives down the lane for a 22-5 Gamecock lead at the 9:11 mark.

From that point, though, the Gamecock offense stagnated for the rest of the half, adding just a Valeria Nainima 3-pointer to the output before halftime. LSU redoubled its effort on its defensive boards, limiting the Gamecocks to just one shot each possession. Free throws helped the Lady Tiger effort as well, but not enough to completely eliminate the deficit by halftime, and South Carolina took a 25-17 lead into the locker room.

The early minutes of the second half found the both teams’ offenses on a more even keel, although the Lady Tigers found their 3-point range to slowly cut into the Gamecocks’ lead. Timely buckets from Sutton and Bruner helped South Carolina keep a two-possession margin through most of the half. LSU’s frontcourt took advantage of three throw opportunities to knot the game at 39-39 with 5:18 on the clock.

Sutton went right back to work on the offensive end, refusing to be denied on the Gamecocks’ next trip up the floor. With the ball in her hands for nearly the entire possession, Sutton repeatedly looked for an opening to the basket, finally finding it on the left side of the lane for a tough layup to put South Carolina back on top. She made it a three-point game with a free throw, but Barrett answered with a traditional three-point play on the other end to tie things up 42-42 with 2:44 to play.

The Gamecocks put the ball in Sutton’s hands again, and the junior converted a pair of free throws that resulted from her drive to the basket. South Carolina ramped up the defensive pressure, nearly forcing a turnover at halfcourt and eventually getting an offensive foul called to hold onto the lead. Neither team scored on its next possession, giving the Gamecocks the lead and the ball with one minute remaining.

Sutton drove the lane and looked to dish to Bruner, but the Lady Tigers disrupted the pass and called a timeout to preserve their possession. Again, the Gamecocks applied aggressive, full-court pressure. Katherine Graham finally broke the pressure, drawing a blocking foul, but missed on the front end of the resulting 1-and-1. The Gamecocks got the rebound, but similarly could not connect on a pair of free throws to stretch out the lead. LSU snagged the rebound and brought the ball to its offensive end before calling a timeout with 23 seconds left to set up the final play.

The Gamecock defense smothered the perimeter action, and Courtney Newton forced a jump ball when the pass went inside with 6.9 seconds to go. Again LSU called timeout, its last one. South Carolina forced the Lady Tigers into their last option on the in-bounds pass, but Taylor Turnbow hit a mid-range jumper from the left baseline to tie the game with 3.2 seconds on the clock. South Carolina immediately called timeout but could not get the final shot to fall.

Free throws were the story early in the overtime, and the Gamecock struggles continued. On the other side, Courtney Jones hit a pair to tie the game at 47-47 with just under three minutes to play. South Carolina missed a pair on the other end, and Turnbow’s jumper gave the Lady Tigers their final lead. South Carolina looked for a rally behind Walker and Sutton and some help from the Lady Tigers at the free throw line, but LSU did just enough to hold onto the win.

Three Gamecocks finished in double figures, led by Sutton’s 18. Bruner added 14 and tied with Newton for team-high honors with seven rebounds, while Walker added 11.

South Carolina will close out its regular season at home on Sun., Feb. 27, in a 2 p.m. game against Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks will honor their seniors, Jewel May and Nainima approximately 15 minutes before tipoff.