Grit. It’s what carried the South Carolina Gamecocks to a season-opening 66-57 win over the NC State Wolfpack in front of a hostile Reynolds Colesium crowd, Tuesday evening in an early matchup of top-five teams.
South Carolina opened the game on a 6-0 run, followed by NC State star center Elisa Cunane picking up her first foul in less than 90 seconds of play. The Wolfpack settled in to cut the Gamecocks lead to 8-6 before another burst from South Carolina made the score 12-6 at the first break.
Raina Perez knocked down a three to cut the Gamecocks lead to 12-9 before South Carolina responded to push their lead back up to seven at 16-9. Perez got to the basket again just before the buzzer for her 9th point of the quarter making the score 16-11 at the quarter break.
Destiny Littleton added a three from the elbow followed by a hustle play steal and layup to give South Carolina a 21-11 lead to open the second period. Kayla Jones added a basket before a Gamecocks turnover sent the game to a media timeout with 4:30 left before halftime and South Carolina ahead 21-15.
Both teams traded baskets making the score 25-19 with just under two minutes left in the half. South Carolina ended the half on a two-minute scoring drought, but NC State would do nothing with the drought and three Gamecock turnovers leaving the score 25-19 at halftime. A major development in the opening half would be Cunane being held scoreless during the first 20 minutes of play. Perez led all scorers at the break with 11 points, with Littleton leading South Carolina with seven points.
Baskets from Jakia Brown-Turner and Diamond Johnson cut the South Carolina lead to two at 28-26. The Wolfpack then had a chance to tie the game, but a turnover led to a Gamecocks run – making the score 33-28 with 6:00 left in the period. The Wolfpack wouldn’t go away with baskets from Brown-Turner and Perez – cutting the South Carolina lead to 33-32 at the 4:49 media timeout.
South Carolina answered every Wolfpack punch with a basket. Amihere’s basket for the Gamecocks made it 41-36 with 2:25 left in the quarter. Another Amihere basket upped the South Carolina lead to 45-36 before Brown-Turner added another three beating the shot clock. The Gamecocks added two free throws just before the quarter break, making the score 47-39 in favor of the Gamecocks at the end of the third.
Zia Cooke split a pair of free throws, then added a corner three to put South Carolina head 51-41 with 7:25 left on the clock. The Gamecocks kept the pressure on, going on an 8-0 run to push their lead to 55-41 at the 4:52 mark. Both teams proceeded to trade baskets with South Carolina answering every NC State basket – making the score 59-46 in favor of South Carolina with 3:33 left.
Kayla Jones answered the call, going on a 5-0 run to trim the Gamecocks lead to 59-51 with 2:45 remaining. NC State would go two possessions empty-handed, followed by two free throws from South Carolina making the score 61-51. NC State would be unable to carve into the lead with South Carolina connecting at the free-throw line providing the final score, 66-57.
Brown-Turner and Perez led all scorers with 18 points. Cooke led South Carolina with 17 points, with Henderson following with 14 points.
The Gamecocks shot 49% for the game compared to just 41% for the Wolfpack. South Carolina doubled up NC State at the free-throw shooting 13-19 while the Wolfpack went just 4-6. Neither team lit up the net from beyond the arc with NC State holding the slight edge 28% to just 25% from the Gamecocks.
Don’t be surprised to see these two teams matched up again in April.