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Feb. 6, 2014

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STARKVILLE, Miss. – No. 6/7 South Carolina needed clutch baskets late to earn a 71-64 win at Mississippi State Thursday night at Humphrey Coliseum. The Gamecocks (21-2, 9-1 SEC) tied the school record with 14 blocked shots, including a career-high seven from Ibiam that gave her the program’s individual single-season record with 63. Junior forward Aleighsa Welch put the team on her back when needed, finishing with her seventh double-double of the season (18 points, 11 rebounds) and got great support from Asia Dozier and Khadijah Sessions with big baskets late in the game.

The Gamecocks knew they were in battle right from tipoff, and they were hamstrung by a pair of fouls on Tiffany Mitchell before the first media timeout. The rest of the team fought on, though, especially on the defensive end, holding Mississippi State to just 28.1 percent shooting in the opening period.

With the Bulldogs leading 9-6, South Carolina wrested control with a 9-0 run that saw four different Gamecocks score. After grabbing an offensive rebound, Aleighsa Welch got things started with a pair of free throws. Khadijah Sessions snagged a defensive rebound and raced the length of the floor to hit a layup despite being fouled, converting the traditional three-point play. Another Welch free throw made it a 12-9 game with 14:50 left in the half. Alaina Coates reeled in a defensive board on the next possession, and Asia Dozier drained her first 3. Coates picked up the first of her three blocks in the half, then doubled her impact by hitting from the left block to put the Gamecocks up 17-9 with 13:23 to go before halftime.

With Sessions now also on the bench with two fouls, the Gamecock lead hovered around eight points until Breanna Richardson scored on a drive and free throw to get the Bulldogs within 27-20 with 4:33 on the clock. After denying the Gamecocks twice the next time up the floor, Mississippi State corralled the rebound off a pair of missed free throws from Martha Alwal who pulled her team within five at 3:44 with a hook shot.

South Carolina turned a turnover and a defensive rebound from Welch into a 7-0 run over the next two minutes. Welch started it with a three-point play followed by a short jumper from Tina Roy and a transition layup from Tiffany Davis to take a 34-22 lead with 1:47 to go. Mississippi State answered, though, scoring seven straight points of its own as the Gamecocks struggled to find the basket or the rebound in the final stretch of the half.

Leading 34-29 at the half, the Gamecocks saw the Bulldogs continue their run with four straight points out of the break to get within a bucket a 34-32 less than a minute into the second period. Welch again put the team on her back, putting her own miss back for the first South Carolina basket of the half. After getting a stop on the other end, the Gamecocks’ good ball movement got a good look at a 3 for Mitchell to go back up by seven early in the half.

The lead stretched to 12 on a pair of free throws from Mitchell, a tough shot in traffic by Coates and a 3 from Sessions, putting South Carolina up 52-40 with 11:39 to play. The Bulldogs kept on pressing, though, behind a rash of 3s from Jerica James. Dozier held Mississippi State at bay briefly with a 3 from the left corner, but James answered with a deep shot from the left wing. After a pair of Gamecock turnovers, Sherise Williams got open on the left block to make it a one-point game at 55-54 with 6:28 to play.

Dozier again got the Gamecocks back on track. On a baseline out-of-bounds play, Welch found her underneath for a bucket. The defense forced a shot-clock violation on the other end, and Ibiam converted a three-point play to five South Carolina a better margin at 60-54 with 4:57 to go. James’ third 3 of the stretch cut that advantage in half, and the Bulldogs looked for another move after picking up a steal. Welch would not allow it, though, grabbing a defensive rebound to give the Gamecocks the ball back.

Sessions hit a free throw to again make it a four-point game, and Ibiam blocked her seventh shot on the other end as the Gamecocks tried to make a run. Through a sea of defenders, Welch put back her own miss to put her team up 63-57 with 2:56 to play. Alwal hit a jump shot and South Carolina misfired on the other end to set up the Bulldogs again. They fought to take advantage, holding off the Gamecock rebounders for three offensive boards, but still could not convert.

Up by just four with a minute to play, South Carolina found the shot clock running down on its next possession. The ball found Roy at the top of the arc, and the redshirt sophomore drained a 3 to stretch the lead out with 50 seconds to play. The Bulldogs continued to press, but the Gamecocks hit free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.

Sessions and Dozier joined Welch in double figures with 14 and 10 points, respectively, as the Gamecock offense came from unusual sources. Limited by fouls, Mitchell struggled to get her shot going, although two of her seven points came on free throws in the final minute to help seal the win. Roy pulled down a career-high eight rebounds, tied for team-high honors with four assists and joined the block party with two in her solid all-around effort.

The Gamecocks shot 80.7 percent (20-of-23) from the free throw line, including 8-of-9 from Welch. They doubled up the Bulldogs in the paint 32-16 and out-rebounded them 40-31.

South Carolina returns to Colonial Life Arena for a Sunday game against Arkansas. Tipoff is at 2 p.m.