First half: the Ags start slow, build a big lead
Both teams came out playing with tough, but the Ags were missing early shots (2-11 in the first 7 minutes) while the Game Hens built a 9-4 lead. Looking up and seeing 17% FG% on the scoreboard, I was wondering if USCe was just the better team. But, just as she did at Georgia, Jordan Jones ignited a rally with a steal and a fast break layup to break the visitors' momentum. The Ags D went to an even higher level and shots began to fall and the Ags had Carolina on the ropes. A&M led by as many as 19 and finished the half up 17, which was the same as the Gamecocks point total.
Holding the #8 team in the AP to 17 points in a half made this one of the best stretches of play by this Aggie team so far. The Ags held the Gamecocks to 24.1% shooting with 12 turnovers, including 6 steals. The Ags scored 16 pts on those turnovers and only turned it over once. The lead could have been greater, but a combination of S Carolina's defense, and A&M missing some open looks meant the Ags were only able to shoot at 35.9% FG, while going 12-28 after the cold start. Some of the misses were from rushing shots, but the overall percentage was also depressed by the Gamecock bigs dominating the boards 32-24. There weren't many putbacks for the Ags.
Second half: the Ags almost escape a great comeback
A&M scored first to make the largest lead of the second half 19 points. But a combination of Carolina adjustments, and more missed open looks allowed the Gamecocks to whittle the lead down to striking distance. The lead was down to 13 (40-27) by the first media timeout at 15:21. It was down to 4 (40-36) by the time the Ags scored again after the second media timeout. Carolina cut it to 42-41 at 9:25 on a 3-pointer by Olivia Gaines. By this time the crowd of 5778 was getting nervous. A couple of buckets by Walker and yet another steal for a fast break layup by Jones stretched the lead to 5. But Carolina wasn't done. At 3:51 an Asia Dozier 3-pointer cut it to 1 again. The lead fluctuated and it seemed like the Ags would get away with a win in regulation when down 3 with 27 seconds to go, Asia Dozier airmailed an entry pass to the post. The Gamecocks had to play "go for the steal or foul quickly", and a foul and a pair of FTs by CWill made it a 5 point lead. Tiffany Mitchell cut it to 3 again with a jumper from the left of the lane.
Then things went crazy. Jones completed the inbounds pass to Waker in front of the Carolina bench. I expected a foul and a couple of free throws to ice the game, but instead, Walker dribbled into a double team. I couldn't see all of what happened from my seat in Reed, but reviewing the game on my DVR, it went like this: There was contact that could have been a block or a charge. No call. The Gamecocks swiped at the ball but didn't grab it. Blair was trying to call timeout. Walker fell out of bounds. The refs called it a held ball with the possession arrow pointing to S. Carolina. The crowd went nuts with outrage.
The Ags still had a 3 point lead with 15 seconds to go, and Staley had used her last timeout. The Ags played pretty good defense, but Walker slipped going out to cover Tiffany Mitchell outside the arc near the visitors bench. As Walker recovered, Mitchell had to take a three pointer falling backward off one foot.
The ball banked in off the glass.
It was a great clutch shot, but it was also a "are you kidding me?" moment.
S. Carolina had completed the comeback to force OT by holding the Ags to 7-25 shooting and retaining their rebounding edge. The Gamecocks cut down their turnovers and the Ags points of turnovers went down accordingly. I also thought that both teams were running on fumes by the end. Shots were missing by hitting the front rim.
Overtime: Ags regroup just enough to pull it out
Going into OT, the Ags were stunned and the Game Hens had new energy and momentum. In addition, Williams, Gilbert, and Ade were all playing with 4 fouls while none of the visitors had more than 3. Carolina had a chance to take the lead for the first time since early in the first half when Ade fouled out early in the OT, but Elem Ibiam missed both FTs. Rachel Mitchell, who had also played in regulation, replaced Ade, giving the Ags the twin towers lineup for the first time in the game. Karla got the first points of the OT with a touch shot in the paint. Gilbert forced Ibaim to miss a short shot, but Rachel missed on blocking out Alaina Coates, who tied the game with a putback. The Ags got the ball into Gilbert down low again, and Karla hit an even tougher shot. Carolina would never get even again, as Jordan Jones got yet another swipe and layup, this time picking Asia Dozier's pocket with 1:30 left. Dozier compounded the error by fouling JJ. The and one FT made it a 5 point lead with 1L27 left. Their Mitchell cut it to 2 with another 3 pointer at 1:16. Walker drove the left baseline and made a shot while getting fouled. Coach Staley went berzerk when she saw the ref give CWalk the continuation, and at the time, I thought the Ags benefitted from a bad call. But on the replay, it looked like Walker was fouled a couple of times on the drive, but the ref didn't call the initial contacts. At least that's how the TV people explained it. Walker missed the FT but the bucket made it 65-61. Karla fouled out on the next possession trying to stop a Tiffany Mitchell drive but the Carolina guard made only 1 of 2. The score was now 65-62, and the Ags needed a score to make it a 2 possession game. Williams wasn't able to hit her jumper, but the Carolina defenders caught the rebound falling out of bounds on the baseline, giving the Ags the ball back with 16.7 left in the game. Jones barely got the ball inbounds to Wiliams, who was fouled. CWill hit her free throws to make it 67-62. Welch was able to bank in one more 3-pointer from the top of the key as the buzzer sounded, but it was too little too late by then as the Aggie D didn't let the Gamecocks get a good look quickly enough to force another possession.
Stats, stars, and random thoughts
- 4/5 starters for the Ags scored in double figures. Walker led the Ags with 18. Williams had 17, JJ 16, and Karla 11. Williams was a board short of another double-double.
- Jordan Jones was my star of the game. She played all 45 minutes. Blair said after that there was nothing wrong with Curtyce; he just liked what Jordan was doing. In addition to the 16 pts, she had 7 assists vs just 3 turnovers, 5 boards and 4 steals. The multiple steals leading to fast break layups came at important times in the game, including: stopping early momentum, at the end of regulation, and to thwart a final comeback in OT. Earlier this week, Jones was named to the Lieberman award watch list for the best PG in the country. She's the only soph, with Maryland's freshman Lexie Brown as the only other underclasswoman. Jones is showing she deserves to be on the list.
- Aleighsha Welch led all scorers and rebounders with her double-double: 20 points and 16 rebounds. Welch was very impressive, and overall the Carolina bigs did a phenomenal job crashing the glass. Tiffany Mitchell was close behind with 19 points on 8-11 shooting.
- The Ags did a good job of limiting Coates, the outstanding freshman center, for most of the game… but I'm glad we got them early in the conference schedule and at home. If we play again, it will be in the SEC tourney and/or the NCAAs.
- The difference in scoring was free throws. SC outscored the Ags from the field. Both teams made 25 FGs, but USCe had 5 three pointers while the Ags had only 2. But A&M was 15-20 from the FT line, vs 10-21 for the Lady Gamecocks.
- Carolina won rebounds 53-41. Ags won turnovers 20-8
- The A&M bench provided key contributions, but not in points. The reserves were shut out on 0-4 shooting with 5 boards, 2 steals, a block, and 3 turnovers.
- The Chicken finger eating contest was lame. One guy beat two girls.
- Gamecock man gives the S. Carolina perspective at Garnet and Black Attack.
Up next: Auld Lang Syne at Reed
Sunday afternoon, Vic Schaeffer leads the Mississippi State Bulldogs into Reed. Vic will be accompanied by a staff that includes former A&M coaches and players: Johnnie Harris moved with Vic from being an assistant here to associate head coach there. Aqua Franklin, Maryann Baker, and Skylar Collins are all also on Vic's staff.
The Lady Bulldogs are much improved from Vic's first season a year ago. They're 14-4 overall. Although they're just 1-3 in SEC play they hung with the Lady Vols before falling 67-63 in their last game. The Bulldogs' best player is probably Jr Martha Alwal, who was a bright spot last year. The 6-4 Alwal is averaging 16.1 ppg and 8.6 rebounds. 5-11 Jr G Kendra Grant had 21 off the bench vs the Vols.
The win on Thursday night was physically and emotionally draining, so Sunday could be a trap game.
BTHO Mississippi State!