Dec. 20, 2013
COLUMBIA, S.C. – No. 10/10 South Carolina (10-1) defeated Winthrop (6-3) 69-61 Friday afternoon in non-conference action at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks led by as many as 19 in the game, but the Eagles fought back, with South Carolina sophomore Tiffany Mitchell’s 20 points holding off their upset bid.
“I’m pleased with getting the win. There are opportunities for us to continue to learn. I thought having to play without our starting point guard, we held on and did some good things down the stretch,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. “Obviously, the free throw situation didn’t help our cause. I think we could have pulled away a little bit more if we had hit some free throws down the stretch. But, I thought we did a great job of just making (Dequesha) McClanahan work for 37 minutes. I thought we did our jobs on that part.”
Whenever Winthrop started to gain momentum Mitchell seemingly had an answer, adding seven assists to her game-high point total. Redshirt freshman guard Tiffany Davis earned the first starting nod of her career in place of injured sophomore guard Khadijah Sessions, and battled the way Staley hoped she would in her debut.
The Gamecocks came out firing on all cylinders, scoring the first 14 points. Sophomore guard Asia Dozier was a force to be reckoned with in the early stages of the game, combining with junior center Elem Ibiam to score the first 11 points of the afternoon. Dozier scored five and assisted on two of Ibiam’s three baskets in the stretch.
After nearly five scoreless minutes, Winthrop senior guard Dequesha McClanahan scored the first of her 19 points on a 3-pointer to get the Eagles on the board.
South Carolina stretched its lead to 19 at the 7:30 mark thanks to three 3-point shots from Davis, Mitchell and Dozier and seemed to have a stranglehold on the game.
At the end of the half, Mitchell was perfect from the field sinking all three of her attempts including two from behind the arc, for eight points. Dozier and Ibiam also tallied eight apiece.
The Gamecocks scored the first four points of the second half with aggressive post play by Ibiam and Welch to extend the lead to 41-23, but the Eagles continued to battle. Winthrop scored six-straight points on fast break opportunities, cutting the lead to 41-29 with 17:30 to play.
Suddenly, South Carolina struggled to find rhythm. McClanahan and the Eagles took advantage and began to find their groove. Winthrop held the Gamecocks scoreless for nearly three minutes and rattled off a 12-2 run to battle back. A trio of baskets from Eagle freshman guard Erica Williams in the run made the score 55-50 with 8:46 to go.
A huge block from Welch helped slow down the Eagles, but they continued to chip away at the South Carolina advantage. Three times in the final seven minutes, Winthrop pulled within striking distance, whittling the deficit to four points. Each time, Mitchell or Dozier was there to stave off the surge.
Dozier sank a pair of free throws with three minutes remaining to push the lead back to six. Shortly after, McClanahan fouled out on a charge under the basket, and South Carolina went on to clinch the 69-61 win.
The Gamecocks shot 50.0 percent from the field, hitting 24-of-48 shots and recorded assists on 17 of their 24 made baskets. In addition to Mitchell’s 20-point game, Welch, Dozier and Ibiam hit double digits. Welch tallied 14 points and eight rebounds, Dozier added 13 points and five assists and Ibiam narrowly missed a double-double, contributing 12 points and nine boards.
McClanahan and Williams finished the day with 19 points a piece for Winthrop. McClanahan recorded eight assists as well. Sophomore forward Schaquilla Nunn brought down a game-high 10 rebounds.
The Gamecocks return to Colonial Life Arena for a 1 p.m., game against SC State on Sun., Dec. 22, with live coverage on Fox Sports South. Stay connected to Gamecocksonline.com for more details.