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Jan. 16, 2014

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COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS – No. 8/8 South Carolina fought back from a 17-point halftime lead but fell in overtime to No. 25/21 Texas A&M, 67-65, Thursday night at Reed Arena. The Gamecocks (16-2, 4-1 SEC) got 20 points and 16 rebounds from junior forward Aleighsa Welch, including 13 points in the second half and overtime. South Carolina drops its first SEC game of the season despite shooting 55.6 percent from the field in the second half and 60.0 percent in overtime.

It was a tough first half for the Gamecocks, scoring just 17 points in the period, their lowest-scoring half of the season by 10 points. The Aggies made it difficult to get the ball inside and were helped when Elem Ibiam and Alaina Coates both went to the bench with foul trouble. South Carolina was, actually the early aggressor, taking it to the Aggies and dominating the defensive glass early to sprint to a 9-4 lead six minutes into the game. Welch scored on a floater in the lane to start the 5-0 surge that included limiting the Aggies to one well-defended shot on the other end. Tiffany Mitchell added a jumper from the right side, and Tina Roy hit a free throw to make it a five-point game.

Texas A&M answered with an 8-0 run, turning the tables on the Gamecocks by taking care of the boards on both ends of the court and turning South Carolina turnovers into easy points. The run put the Aggies up 12-9 with 11:16 left in the period. Welch finally ended the surge with a putback on the second offensive rebound of the possession. The teams traded baskets for a 14-13 Texas A&M lead with 9:43 to go until halftime. From there, the Aggies took over, outscoring the Gamecocks 20-4 down the stretch for a 34-17 lead at the break, as South Carolina struggled to find good shots with the interior shut down.

South Carolina burst out of the locker room, solving the riddle of the A&M defense while playing lock-down defense on the other end to go on a 19-6 run that brought the Gamecocks within seven with 11:50 to play. Mitchell got it going with a baseline jumper, which Asia Dozier mirrored after Welch hit a turnaround jumper. The Aggies scored on back-to-back possessions, scoring free throws in both, but the Gamecock offense had found its rhythm. Welch hit a jumper from the free throw line then put back a missed shot. Coates hit from the left block, and Ibiam scored on a putback on the next possession to make it a 40-31 game with 13:00 to play. Coates muscled up a shot through a block then converted the free throw to bring the Gamecocks within six, and after forcing a shot-clock violation on the other end and corralling three offensive rebounds, Welch hit a short jumper to get within four with 11:10 to play.

The Aggies got a bucket from Karla Gilbert, but the Gamecocks continued to control the glass, scoring on back-to-back possessions, including a 3 at the end of the shot clock from Olivia Gaines that brought South Carolina within 42-41, but the Gamecocks could not get over the hump, allowing the Aggies to stay in front down the stretch. South Carolina’s defense kept things close, though, allowing for the heroics late in the second half. After a free throw from Coates made it a one-point game with 1:10 on the clock, the Aggies got a tough bucket from Courtney Walker underneath through a double-team, and turned a Gamecock turnover into free throws to go up 56-51 with 26 seconds left.

Every ready for the battle, the Gamecocks were not done. Mitchell pulled up for a jumper from the left elbow to make it a 56-53 game with 20 seconds on the clock. The Aggies inbounded the ball, and the Gamecocks locked down with a double team on the sideline just in front of their own bench. With hands everywhere, South Carolina forced a jump-ball call to get the ball back with 15 seconds on the clock. Mitchell spotted up for a 3 from the left wing and buried it with six seconds left, and the defense held on the other end to send the game to overtime. The extra period looked more like the first half than the second as turnovers left the comeback short.

South Carolina held the Aggies to just 28.0 percent shooting in the second half, but Texas A&M warmed up in the overtime to secure the win. Joining Welch in double figures, Mitchell netted 19, while Ibiam brought down 12 rebounds and blocked four shots in the loss.

The Gamecocks return to Colonial Life Arena on Sun., Jan. 19, to face Alabama in a 3 p.m. contest.