RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Zia Cooke scored 17 points and top-ranked South Carolina never trailed in its 66-57 win over No. 5 North Carolina State on Tuesday night, earning an impressive road win in a marquee season-opening matchup of Final Four contenders.
The Gamecocks scored the first six points and offered a composed response any time the Wolfpack tried to make a move. Cooke paced an offensive team effort that shot 49%, while preseason Associated Press All-American Aliyah Boston controlled the paint and helped shut down Elissa Cunane – N.C. State’s star and the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year.
Boston finished with eight points, six rebounds and five blocks for South Carolina.
Raina Perez and Jakia Brown-Turner were the only Wolfpack players to find any type of offensive rhythm, each finishing with 18 points. Cunane finished with eight points on 4-for-11 shooting with three rebounds despite failing to hit a basket until the third quarter – a major problem for an offense that relies on her as the interior presence surrounded by capable shooters.
N.C. State shot 41% overall, never managing to consistently string together enough stops or solid scoring possessions to catch South Carolina. Not even a loud home crowd back in Reynolds Coliseum again helped.
The Wolfpack got within a point three separate times in the third quarter, the last coming at 37-36 on Brown-Turner’s baseline drive. But South Carolina countered during that stretch with efficient offense, scoring on five straight possessions and seven of eight to end the third quarter.
The Gamecocks went on their finishing kick early in the fourth, with Cooke knocking down a transition 3-pointer near the South Carolina bench to push the margin to 51-41 with 7:57 left. Destanni Henderson (14 points) added a jumper with the shot clock winding down, then Boston scored inside against Cunane while being fouled for South Carolina’s largest lead at 55-41 with 4:51 to play.
N.C. State got no closer than eight points after that.
- This is the 11th-straight win for South Carolina in season openers. Head coach Dawn Staley is 12-2 in openers leading the Gamecocks.
- The team’s last win over a ranked opponent to start a season came on Nov. 14, 2016, which also came on the road, a win over No. 7 Ohio State.
- Dating back to the 2019-20 season, South Carolina is 23-6 against nationally ranked opponents.
- South Carolina’s last win against a team ranked in the top five of the AP Poll was Feb. 10, 2020, a 70-52 win over No. 5 UConn.
- The Gamecocks ranked second nationally in blocks per game in 2020-21 (7.0) and finished Tuesday’s game with nine. Aliyah Boston had five to lead the defense, the 11th time in her career with five or more blocks in a game.
- Destiny Littleton gave the team a big boost in a physical second quarter. The guard accounted for seven of the team’s nine total points in the period and played 11 minutes total in the game.
- The paint defense was key for South Carolina’s success; the team shut down the Wolfpack’s returning all-american forward Elissa Cunane, limiting her to eight points and three rebounds in 31 minutes.
- Laeticia Amihere spearheaded the South Carolina reserves with nine points, helping the team finish with an 18-7 advantage in points off the bench.
- Zia Cooke led the team in scoring for the 29th time in her career. The Gamecocks are 26-3 in games where the junior guard led the scoring charge.
The Gamecocks close out the opening week of the season with another road game, traveling to Sioux Falls, SD to take on South Dakota on Friday, Nov. 12. The game will tip at 7 p.m. and can be watched on the ESPN News network.
Courtesy – South Carolina Gamecocks