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Nov. 17, 2013

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – No. 21/17 South Carolina defeated Seton Hall 88-67 Sunday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena behind five Gamecocks scoring in double figures. A sluggish first half for both squads turned into a hot-shooting night for South Carolina (4-0), which shot a scorching 73.9 percent in the second half to pull away from the Pirates (3-1).

In Seton Hall’s first road game of the season, the Pirates found themselves in early foul trouble, with six team fouls in the first four minutes as the Gamecocks aggressively penetrated the paint. Even with the Pirates’ excessive foul trouble, both teams struggled to forge any sustained lead, finding themselves neck-and-neck for most of the first half.

A classic hustle play from junior forward Aleighsa Welch began to tip the momentum to the Gamecocks with 8:38 left in the half. The athletic forward swiped a steal and punctuated it with a clear layup as she won the race down the floor, giving South Carolina a 25-21 edge.

The Pirates answered with a 3-pointer from redshirt junior guard Ka-Deidre Simmons, but South Carolina sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell immediately hit a pull-up jumper at the other end to push the Gamecock lead back to 27-24. Welch sparked the next breakaway with a defensive rebound that she sent the length of the floor to Tina Roy, who dropped it off to Khadijah Sessions for a back door layup to give the Gamecocks a six-point lead, their largest to that point, with 6:28 left in the first half.

The Pirates continued to put pressure on the Gamecocks, bringing the game within a point once again at 38-37, with 2:04 left in the period as sophomore guard Jasmine McCall hit a jumper. Shortly after, Seton Hall took a one-point lead, though it would be its last of the afternoon, with a layup from sophomore forward Tabatha Richardson-Smith.

The Gamecocks took a 41-39 lead into the locker room with a pair of dramatic plays. Sophomore guard/forward Asia Dozier drained her first 3-pointer of the game, thrusting the Gamecocks to a two-point lead with 42 seconds left. On the other end, Simmons pulled up for the jumper, but Welch was there to record her second block of the game at the buzzer.

The Gamecocks exploded out of the locker room, scoring eight of the half’s first 10 points. A Dozier steal and 3-pointer opened the period, and South Carolina shook off consecutive turnovers with solid defense, sparking a 5-0 spurt that eventually grew to 13-2. With junior center Elem Ibiam and Welch altering shots on the defensive end, the Gamecock offense scored in myriad ways – Ibiam hit from the left block after Mitchell’s drive and dish opened up space, Sessions hit a pull-up jumper in transition, and Welch added a free throw for a 49-41 advantage three minutes into the half.

After McCall hit a jumper from the right elbow to narrow the gap to six at 49-43, Mitchell hit back-to-back 3-pointers, assisted by Welch both times, to stretch the Gamecock lead to double digits at 55-43 with 14:44 to play.

Just as South Carolina began to get comfortable in its lead, which had grown to 15 by the 12:48 mark, Seton Hall answered with a seven-point run, that made it a 61-53 Gamecock lead less than two minutes later. Sessions stopped the spurt with a clutch 3 in front of the Gamecock bench, and was fouled in the process, further inciting her teammates.

The Gamecocks doubled their lead to 83-63 over the next eight minutes, largely due to their collective defensive rebounding effort and Ibiam’s stretch of seven points on four-straight Gamecock possessions.

South Carolina shot 57.8 percent from the field for the game, including a stellar 73.9 percent in the second half, which featured just six missed shots. The Gamecocks turned eight Pirate turnovers into 11 points while dishing out 19 assists on 26 made baskets. South Carolina capitalized on points in the paint, scoring 34, and had 20 points off of fast break opportunities.

Five Gamecocks posted double digits in the contest. Ibiam led the way scoring a season-high 18. The center has recorded at least three blocks in every game of the season after swatting three shots against the Pirates. Sessions contributed 17 points and five assists on the night. Welch and Mitchell added 15 points apiece, and Coates posted 10. Welch, Ibiam and Coates each pulled down a game-high eight rebounds, and Coates recorded four blocks as well.

Richardson-Smith and Simmons combined for a 43 of Seton Hall’s 67 points on the night. Richardson-Smith poured in a game-high 24 points and eight rebounds with Simmons scoring 19.

The Gamecocks are set to play their first road contest of the season at in-state rival Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum on Wed., Nov. 20, at 7 p.m.