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Jan. 6, 2013

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – No. 18/15 South Carolina shot more free throws than field goals in a 60-46 win over Mississippi State at Humphrey Coliseum Sunday afternoon. The Gamecocks (13-2, 1-1 SEC) were aggressive offensively from the opening tip, making a Dawn Staley era record 32 free throws on 50 attempts, compared to just 38 field goal attempts. Aleighsa Welch led the offense with 16 points, and Sancheon White tied her career high with 11, including nine in the second half as the Gamecocks pulled away for their first SEC win of the season.

Offense came in spurts for the Gamecocks in the first half, and largely at the free throw line as the Bulldogs committed 15 fouls in the first 20 minutes of action. South Carolina was aggressive going to the basket early as four free throws and a White baseline jumper opened the game before the Bulldogs got on the board.

As Mississippi State closed within 12-9, Welch and Ashley Bruner took over inside, mostly drawing fouls. As the defense forced three turnovers on MSU’s next four possessions, Welch hit a free throw and drove the right side for a basket while Bruner added three free throws to extend the Gamecocks’ advantage to 18-9 with just under nine minutes left in the half.

Mississippi State found room to work as Gamecock seniors Ieasia Walker and White were forced to the bench with a pair of fouls each. Back-to-back baskets for the Bulldogs brought them within striking distance again a 22-18 with 3:52 to go in the half. Khadijah Sessions and Welch combined for the next six points of the game as the Gamecocks’ rebounding limited the Bulldogs to one shot on five straight possessions before the managed a pair of free throws just before halftime.

With a 28-20 lead coming out of the locker room, South Carolina continued to force the action at the rim. Walker put together five straight points for the Gamecocks, the last of which opened a 5-0 run that would give her team its largest lead of the game at 39-28 with 12:20 to go. Elem Ibiam followed Walker’s free throw with one of her own, and a quick outlet pass from Welch on a defensive rebound led to an easy layup for White, which forced Mississippi State to take a time out. Welch capped the surge with a free throw.

The teams traded baskets, but the Gamecocks again cranked up the pressure on both sides of the ball, putting together a 7-0 run on another White layup off her own steal, a Welch transition layup that resulted in a three-point play, and a Bruner bucket off a baseline out-of-bounds play. The result was a 49-35 advantage that the Gamecocks would not relinquish.

Welch’s 16 points included 6-of-8 from the free throw line, and she led the way with seven rebounds and three assists. White’s afternoon included six rebounds and three steals. Every Gamecock took and made at least one free throw in the game as the team shot 64.0 percent. South Carolina out-rebounded MSU 40-30 and scored 17 points off 13 Mississippi State turnovers.

The Gamecocks are back home on Thu., Jan. 10, to take on Vanderbilt at 7 p.m.