COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Down nine points in the fourth quarter and close to getting run out of her building, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley didn’t panic. Her top-ranked Gamecocks wouldn’t let her.
Tyasha Harris had a season-high 23 points and the Gamecocks rallied in the final period to win their 12th straight with a 81-79 victory over No. 9 Mississippi State on Monday night.
Staley called time out after South Carolina trailed 71-62 with eight minutes to go and quickly saw her players were locked in and eager to turn things around.
“Everybody was really positive in that time out,” Staley said. “So I’m like, we got a shot. We’ve got a shot to come back because they believe.'”
Harris and the Gamecocks put that belief into action, snapping off a 12-2 run to get them back into the game.
Zia Cooke made a three-point play and a basket, both which put the Gamecocks (18-1, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) back in front.
JaMya Mingo-Young had consecutive shots as Mississippi State (17-3, 4-1) built a 79-76 lead with 3:28 to go. But the Bulldogs missed their final five shots.
Mississippi State had several chances to go in front, but Rickea Jackson and Jordan Danberry both missed shots to put the Bulldogs back in front in the final two minutes.
Cooke closed it with her steal of an inbounds pass with 4 seconds left and ran out the clock.
“Let’s catch it,” Cooke thought as the ball came her way. “And then I need to run away from her so she can’t catch me and end it.”
Harris scored the final five points for the Gamecocks, who got a sixth victory in seven meetings with a Top-25 opponent this season.
South Carolina freshman Aliyah Boston had 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Mississippi State looked like it might beat its second straight No. 1 opponent – the first came when it famously ended UConn’s 111-game win streak at the 2017 national semifinals – as it took that nine-point lead in the final period.
But the Gamecocks got their big run to move back in front on Cooke’s three-point play.
“They are No. 1,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaeffer said. “But we’re not far behind.”
Indeed, it’s likely these teams might match up again at the SEC Tournament in Greenville, S.C., come March, then perhaps a final team in the Final Four as they did in 2017 when South Carolina won the the title over Mississippi State.
Mingo-Young, a freshman who tied her career high with 14 points, was confident the Bulldogs would learn and recover from their missed chance.
“We’ll figure this thing out,” she said.
Jackson and Danberry had 16 points each to lead the Bulldogs, who saw their eight-game win streak snapped.
South Carolina came out fast, as it has all season, with seniors Harris and Herbert Harrigan steadily helping the team to a 33-21 lead with less than seven minutes left to the half.
That’s when the defending SEC champion Bulldogs dug in to tighten things up with a 21-10 surge to cut South Carolina’s double-digit lead to 43-42 at the break.
Xaria Wiggins scored all eight of her first-half points in that stretch while Jackson had a three-point play and another bucket.
By the time Danberry shoveled a pass to 6-foot-5 Promise Taylor for a close-in basket with 3.2 seconds to go, the Bulldogs were within a point and running into the locker room with cheers and smiles.
Entering the fourth down 65-62, the Gamecocks locked in defensively and held the Bulldogs to 37.5 percent from the field after Mississippi State had shot 52.9 percent through the first three quarters.
The Gamecocks used their speed to generate 22 fast break points, nearly four times the six such points by Mississippi State.
- The 18-1 start for Carolina is the best start to a season since the 2015-16 squad opened its season with 22 straight wins.
- The Gamecocks snapped Mississippi State’s 14-game road winning streak, which was tied for the longest in the nation heading into tonight.
- Carolina now has three wins over teams ranked in the AP top 10, and six wins over top-25 teams.
- Tyasha Harris finished with a season-best 23 points and seven assists, putting her just five assists away from the all-time program record (615).
- Aliyah Boston notched her second straight double-double with a career-high 21 points and 12 rebounds. It’s the freshman’s fourth double-double since SEC play started.
- Mikiah Herbert Harrigan poured in 14 points, putting her over 1,000 points for her career. She also pulled down six rebounds and blocked two shots.
- Zia Cooke continued her hot scoring streak in SEC play with 13 points. The freshman also had the clutch play of the night as she swiped the Bulldogs’ inbound pass with six seconds left to play, securing the win.
- This is the first game in which two Gamecocks scored 20 or more points since Harris and Herbert Harrigan did it against Arkansas in the 2019 SEC Tournament (March 8, 2019).
The Gamecocks (18-1, 6-0 SEC) face another set of Bulldogs on Sunday when they travel to Athens for a clash with Georgia. Tipoff is set for 3 p.m. on the SEC Network.