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March 16, 2011

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South Carolina vs. Appalachian State
March 16, 2011 • Columbia, S.C.
Team 1st 2nd Total
Appalachian State 24 30 54
South Carolina 28 39 67
Coach Staley A. Bruner, C. Stephens

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Bench production and high percentage shooting delivered a 67-54 South Carolina victory over Appalachian State in the first round of the Women’s NIT at Colonial Life Arena Wednesday night. The Gamecocks (18-14) got 39 points off the bench, including a double-double from junior Charenee Stephens to pull away from the scrappy Mountaineers in the second half. South Carolina handed out a season-high 18 assists, led by junior La’Keisha Sutton’s seven, and shot 50.0 percent from the field.

The Gamecocks struggled with turnovers early in the game, committing five in the first 10 minutes, and Appalachian held a lead for a majority of that time. But South Carolina began feeding the post, which opened things up on the perimeter as well. Ashley Bruner broke a 10-10 tie with back-to-back baskets from the left block, and Markeshia Grant hit a jumper from the left elbow to put the Gamecocks up 14-10 with 9:13 to play. Ieasia Walker drained a 3 from the top of the arc at the end of the shot clock to stretch the margin to seven. The Mountaineers fought back late in the half, going on an 8-2 run, but Courtney Newton’s four-point play with just over a minute left helped the Gamecocks take a 28-24 lead into the locker room at halftime.

In the second half, Appalachian State rallied right out of the break, cutting the Gamecock lead to 35-32 on a jumper from Chakeitha Weldon and a transition layup from Courtney Freeman. The surge jolted South Carolina, and again Bruner’s back-to-back post moves got the Gamecocks back on track. Defensive rebounding and steals extended the Gamecock spurt to 8-2 as South Carolina limited ASU to just one shot and a pair of turnovers yielded transition layups from Sutton and Grant, the last of which made it a 43-34 South Carolina advantage.

Appalachian State drew within five points twice more in the half, capitalizing on South Carolina turnovers, but each time the Gamecocks ramped up their defensive pressure. When a 6-0 ASU spurt, capped by Sam Ramirez’s bucket off a hard cut to the basket left the Gamecocks up just 51-46, Stephens established her presence in the post. After reeling in the rebound on Grant’s missed free throw, Stephens scored the team’s next six points. Her surge started with a putback on Grant’s errant 3-pointer, included a bucket from the right block off a hard cut through the lane and ended with a short jumper that put the Gamecocks up 59-47 with 3:19 left to play.

South Carolina’s 50.0 percent field goal shooting was its highest since netting 52.1 percent against Presbyterian on Dec. 28. Stephens led the way in points and rebounds with 13 and 11, respectively, with five of her boards coming on the offensive end. Bruner and Grant each added 12 points to the offense. Sutton finished with seven points and three steals to go with her seven assists, while Walker also scored as much as she dished with five points and five assists to go with her three steals.

The Gamecocks advance to the WNIT’s second round and will host Charlotte on Sun., March 20, at 2 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena. Tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. Thursday morning.