Whatever head coach Dawn Staley said at halftime... it worked.
South Carolina overcomes a 14-point deficit to come back and win in overtime over Drexel 58-55. The efforts of Ashley Bruner, Aleighsa Welch and Tiffany Mitchell really propelled the Gamecocks to victory.
Mitchell led the way with 14 points while Bruner and Welch added 12 points a piece. Welch picked up 15 total rebounds for the Gamecocks to lead the way.
It was a sluggish first half for the Gamecocks as they finished the first half shooting just 29-percent from the field. South Carolina was out-rebounded by Drexel 19-10 in the first half and scored just four points in the paint.
The Gamecocks trailed Drexel for the entire first half as they were unable to contain Drexel's leading scorer, Hollie Mershon, as she added 10 points in the first half along with seven rebounds. The Gamecocks were sloppy even though they only turned the ball over five times. The energy level from the team was missing as there was no sense of urgency at the start of the game and it carried all the way to halftime.
The second half was a much different story.
Right away, you could tell this was a re-energized team as the Gamecocks came out and scored the first two baskets of the half to bring the Drexel lead within 10 points. Sancheon White forced a steal that led to a Tiffany Mitchell jumper and then a steal by Ashley Bruner led to a scoring opportunity for Aleighsa Welch after she rebounded a missed Mitchell layup.
Drexel came back and made two free throws off of a foul by Mitchell to bring the lead back up to 12 points. However, from here, the Gamecocks would slowly chip away at the Drexel lead the rest of the way. The cut the lead to single-digits at the 14:38 mark in the second half with the score 40-31 in favor of Drexel.
Ashley Bruner and Tiffany Mitchell would added baskets over the next few minutes to bring the lead down to seven points with 11:13 remaining in the game. Both teams would go on a two-minute scoring drought before the Gamecocks scored on an Aleighsa Welch jumper to bring the lead down to five with 9:04 remaining in the half.
Both teams traded some baskets down the stretch with the lead never growing larger than six points for Drexel and it wasn't until the 3:25 mark when South Carolina was trailing by just two points thanks to a three-point shot from Tiffany Mitchell in the corner.
Drexel would add a jumper from Renee Johnson-Allen with 1:36 left to build a three-point lead at 55-52. However South Carolina would finally tie the ball game for the first time with a three-point shot from Sancheon White with 1:03 remaining in the game.
Drexel had a chance to win with four seconds remaining but Mershon missed a layup and the game went into overtime.
In overtime, South Carolina took control at the 3:29 mark with an Ashley Bruner jumper and would eventually add a free throw from Welch with 2:51 remaining to build a three-point lead that would remain through the rest of the game.
It was a tough win for the Gamecocks but they realized after the game that the lack of energy in the first half was certainly a cause for concern.
"We had to defend our home floor," said Welch after the game. "They came in trying to put us away in the first half. We had to come out in the second half with a lot more energy. We had to come out as a whole new team. We had to put the first half behind us, we couldn't dwell on it, and we just had to make it a whole new ball game and we were able to do that."
A big reason for the Gamecocks struggles in the first half was the play of veteran Ashley Bruner. Bruner failed to score in the first half and also failed to pulled down any rebounds. She admitted after the game that she felt like she didn't come to play and needed to make an adjustment in the second half.
"I felt like I didn't come to play in the first half and I really took it personally that I didn't have any points or any rebounds and I wasn't helping my team at all. So I said okay I'm going to change this, do a 180 and I'm going to do whatever it takes to get back in this game."
Head coach Dawn Staley agreed.
"I sure did that probably can't be told in here," Staley said when asked what she said to Bruner at halftime. "She wasn't ready to play. In order for us to be on all cylinders, our starters have to get us off to a good start and I thought she was pretty lethargic for this type of game. She usually is a gamer, she usually gets up for games and she usually is one we can count on to be there when we need her and I don't think she came out ready to go."
Bruner came to play in the second half as she finished the game with 12 points and eight total rebounds, including five offensive rebounds. She added two blocks, two assists and four steals on the night.
The second half was much better overall for South Carolina. They were able to come out of the gate fired up with a lot more energy and really responded and played more like the Gamecocks we are used to seeing with defense and rebounding.
"Pretty good second half," said Staley. "I thought our players grew up. I thought our players, mentally and physically, were in tune with the second half and chipping away at the lead and fortunately, for us, we came up with some big plays."
Big plays saved the day for the Gamecocks and kept them undefeated on the season. South Carolina is now 8-0 for the first time since the 2002-2003 season when the Gamecocks won their first eight games of the season.
The Gamecocks will travel to New Jersey this weekend to take on Seton Hall on Sunday.
Gamecocks comeback to win 58-55 over Drexel
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