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March 3, 2011

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – South Carolina picked up its first SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament win since 2007 with a 62-50 win over Ole Miss in first-round action at Bridgestone Arena Thursday night. Markeshia Grant and Ieasia Walker highlighted the box score with 13 and 15 points, respectively, to go with nine rebounds apiece. Jewel May matched their game-high rebounding effort with nine of her own, including six in the second half. Defensively, South Carolina (17-13) allowed Ole Miss (10-19) to shoot just 26.9 percent from the field, including just 1-of-20 accuracy from 3-point range.

Locked down defense and efficient offense helped the Gamecocks to a 30-23 lead at the half. After Ole Miss opened with the game’s first four points, South Carolina settled in for a 22-7 surge built on forcing contested shots and clearing the defensive glass. On the other side of the ball, Ieasia Walker got the offense going with a 3-pointer from the right wing and added a free throw moments later. Ashley Bruner rebounded Walker’s missed free throw, and Courtney Newton buried a 3 from the left corner to put the Gamecocks up 7-4 four minutes into the contest. A defensive rebound led to a transition 3-pointer for Markeshia Grant, and Bruner made it a 12-4 advantage with a bucket as she was falling down.

Ole Miss got a Valencia McFarland floater to fall to interrupt the Gamecocks’ spurt, but Walker’s transition layup got South Carolina back on track. After a Rebel free throw, Walker hit a pair from the charity stripe to stretch the lead to nine at 16-7. From there, the Gamecock frontcourt scored all but two of the remaining 14 points in the half. Charenee Stephens hit one from the left block off a feed from La’Keisha Sutton, and Jewel May netted a putback and a mid-range jumper from the left side of the lane. Bruner hit a based from the right block, and May buried another jumper as the lead hovered around nine points until Nikki Byrd closed the half with a bucket to bring the Rebels within seven at 30-23 at the break.

In the second half, Ole Miss closed to 40-37 as Byrd found her way around the Gamecocks’ interior defense and the Rebels gained better control of their offensive boards. After Newton’s jumper from the left elbow had South Carolina up 40-32 with 13:48 to play, Byrd converted a pair of free throws and Kayla Melson swiped a steal. On the extra possession, the Rebels snagged a pair of offensive rebounds before Shae Nelson was fouled on a 3-point attempt. She hit just one of the three, but Kenyotta Jenkins reeled in the rebound and stuck it back to pull her team within three points.

South Carolina redoubled its defensive and rebounding efforts, led in big part by Stephens’ effort on Byrd, which allowed the Gamecock guards to pull down rebounds on both ends. Grant hit a free throw to start an 11-1 run, then skied above the forward for a defensive rebound on Melson’s missed shot on the other end. Amid four free throws from Sutton and Walker, Stephens ran the court for a transition layup, and Grant added back-to-back layups, including one in transition off a Walker steal. The spurt gave the Gamecocks a 51-38 advantage with 7:25 to go, and they held by hitting free throws and snapping up defensive rebounds for the duration of the game.

Walker and Sutton tied for game-high honors with three assists each, and May added eight points to her nine-rebound effort as three Gamecocks fell just shy of recording double-doubles. South Carolina shot 43.1 percent from the field, and the Gamecock bench accounted for 27 of the team’s 62 points.

The Gamecocks face fourth-seeded Georgia in the quarterfinals of the event on Friday at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on FSN.