South Carolina used a pair of 10-0 runs to overcome a sluggish start and rout Savannah State 82-40 Saturday afternoon at the Colonial Life Arena.
The Gamecocks were clinging to a 22-16 lead midway through the first half when they went on the first 10-0 run. Until that point, the game had been played in the half court and both teams were shooting under 30 percent from the floor. But the Gamecocks were finally able to exert their will by creating turnovers and pushing the tempo. Reserve Olivia Gaines made a pair of baskets sandwiched around a pair of Aleighsa Welch free throws. Tiffany Mitchell was fouled in transition and made both her free throws, and the Welch finished the run with a layup.
"Sometimes you just have to wait it out," said head coach Dawn Staley. "I didn't panic. You've got to let the players play, and sooner or later we opened the game up and did what we should have done a lot sooner."
South Carolina continued to expand its lead going into halftime by getting o the free throw line. USC shot 27 free throws in the first half, making 20. By comparison, Savannah State attempted only 25 field goals, with nine makes. Mitchell led the way for the Gamecocks with 10-14 free throws. She was perfect in two attempts in the second half, and finished with a team-high 18 points despite playing with a painful wrist injury.
"I was hesitant about even playing today," Mitchell said. "They told me to stay with it and it's a mental thing. I blocked out the pain and kept with it."
The Gamecocks opened the second half with another 10-0 run en route to a 39-15 scoring edge for the half. They did all the things in the second half they struggled to do in the early going. They forced turnovers, pushed the tempo, and dominated the glass. The Tigers finished with 19 turnovers, and a 16-13 rebounding deficit became a 39-27 deficit at the end of the game.
The Gamecocks know their second half prowess could be fool's gold as the schedule gets tougher going into conference play.
"We know going into the SEC that we need to put two halves together," Asia Dozier said. "It's not all about the second half. We need to start out strong. That's going to be a focus for us."
For the game, USC was 30-48 from the charity stripe. It marked the second time this season it has made 30 free throws in the game, and a season high for attempts. Coates came off the bench to shoot 9-14 from the line as part of a double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds).
The Gamecocks will have a few days off for the New Year holiday. They return to action Jan. 2 when they open SEC play at Arkansas.
Welch (14) and Dozier (10) also finished in double figures for the Gamecocks... Jasmine Kirkland led all scorers with 19 for the Tigers... Welch also had five assists. Savannah State had six as a team... Mitchell tied her career-high with five steals. She also had four assists... Savannah State finished the game shooting 26.5 percent from the floor. The Gamecocks upped their percentage to 51.1... Attendance was 4,824.
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