Ashley Bruner scored 15 second half points as the Gamecocks women's basketball team overcame a very sloppy first half to pull away from the Savannah State Tigers to give coach Dawn Staley her 200th career victory with a 52-33 win.
"You've got to approach each game a certain way," Staley said. "That's been our challenge all year long. We almost play to the level of our competition every time we step on the court. Not all the time - sometimes we play below. Way below."
It was an ugly game from the start. Charenee Stephens made one of two free throws and then scored on a rebound and putback to give the Gamecocks a 3-0 lead less than a minute into the game. That would be all the scoring for over five minutes before La'Keisha Sutton made a layup to make it 5-0.
Savannah State would get their first points on a pair of Ezinne Kalu free throws nearly 6:30 into the game. Kalu would also score the first field goal just over seven minutes into the game. Savannah State struggled to even get shots off as the Gamecocks forced 14 first half turnovers. When they did get shots, it was usually contested. The Tigers shot just 5-for-19 from the floor and 2-5 from the free throw line.
"We talked about defensively - when you hold a team to 12 points that's pretty good," Staley said.
A Marah Strickland three-pointer would give the Gamecocks a little bit of breathing room and La'Keisha Sutton three a pass the length of the court that Jewel May caught over her shoulder and then finished with an acrobatic layup while being fouled. She converted the free throw as the Gamecocks led 19-12 at halftime. The Gamecocks made just 5-of-22 shots from the field and 8-of-20 free throws.
"We have to try and get higher percentage shots," Staley said. "We've got a lot of options out there. They were trying to go a little bit too much one-on-one trying to make the big play instead of moving the ball around and trying to find the best possible shot on the floor."
Savannah State's Courtney Long hit a three-pointer on the first possession of the second half and would then add in a fast-break layup to quickly cut the Gamecock lead to 19-17. That would force Staley to call a timeout and have a heated discussion with her team. The Gamecocks responded by going on a 10-2 run to stretch the lead to 29-19 four minutes into the second half and would never look back.
Samone Kennedy stole the ball from Long and raced down the court for a layup and was fouled on the play. Her free throw gave the Gamecocks a commanding 40-23 lead. Bruner later scored five consecutive points to push the lead to 48-26 as the Gamecocks cruised from there.
"She played strong with the ball - she played determined basketball. She made up her mind what she was going to do which is finish at the rim and she finished at the rim. When players recognized that they started getting her the ball."
The Gamecocks will have a week off before playing NC State next Sunday.
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