The Gamecocks (15-10, 7-5 SEC) turned an eight-point deficit into the seven-point victory in the last 11 minutes as the defense cranked up the pressure and the offense began clicking a little more smoothly, leading to 55.2 percent shooting in the second half. Markeshia Grant was provided spark on both sides of the ball, and Ieasia Walker led the offense with 16 points.
Both teams struggled to find the basket through most of the first half, although the Lady Bulldogs warmed up late in the period. After Mississippi State opened an 11-6 lead midway through the half, the Gamecocks put together a 6-0 rally to take their first lead of the game. Markeshia Grant got things going with a pair of free throws, and Ieasia Walker converted a Lady Bulldog turnover into a driving layup. Ashley Bruner put South Carolina on top with a basket from the right block off a feed from Charenee Stephens in the high post.
Mississippi State came right back with a driving layup from Diamber Johnson to go up 13-12 with 8:23 to play. The teams combined for five turnovers and no baskets over the next three minutes before Samone Kennedy reeled in a long rebound and drove the court for a layup, putting the Gamecocks back on top. The Lady Bulldogs closed the half with a 7-3 spurt, capped by a 3-pointer from Johnson, to take a 23-19 lead into the locker room.
The second half was a split decision for the Gamecocks, who continued to struggle on the offensive end. While South Carolina tried to scratch their way back, the Lady Bulldogs used a quick 6-0 run to open an eight-point lead midway through the period. A pair of Gamecock turnovers helped the cause, and Ashley Brown capped the run with a transition layup for a 42-38 advantage.
From that point, though, the game was all Gamecocks, who redoubled their rebounding effort and saw their game-long aggressive defense on Johnson begin to pay dividends. Sutton opened up the final 22-11 spurt with a trademark drive up the lane, and Valeria Nainima hit her third 3-pointer of the game to cut the deficit to three points, 42-39, with 10:07 on the clock. MSU's Mary Kathryn Govero netted a traditional three-point play, but it was a brief interruption in the Gamecock surge.
Walker hit a short jumper to start an 11-0 run, and Stephens followed with a putback. After an MSU turnover, Jewel May knotted the game at 45-45 with a bucket off an out-of-bounds play. With the offense clicking, Grant kept things going with back-to-back buckets, including a 3-pointer from the left corner for the Gamecocks' first lead since the 2:52 mark in the first half.
Mississippi State applied fullcourt pressure, but the Gamecocks showed good court vision in breaking it on back-to-back plays for easy buckets, forcing the Lady Bulldogs to ease up. South Carolina sealed the win at the free throw line to deliver its third-straight win and its fifth in six outings.
Walker was the lone Gamecock in double-figure points, but all nine of Nainima's points came in the critical second half. Stephens led the team on the glass, pulling down seven boards to go with her six points. May finished with seven points and four rebounds, all on the offensive end.
South Carolina continues its two-game road swing with a trip to No. 4/4 Tennessee on Thu., Feb. 17.
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