Lady Gamecocks mount late rally to stun No. 8 Tennessee

South Carolina fought back from seven points down in the final 3:37 to earn its first win over #8/8 Tennessee in 32 seasons, topping the Lady Vols 64-60. Senior Markeshia Grant had the hot hand, hitting seven 3-pointers en route to a career-high 24 points, while senior La’Keisha Sutton added 12, including the sealing free throws on a 1-and-1 opportunity in the final 12 seconds.

The first half was all guards in the scoring column with huge efforts from the forwards on the glass. The Gamecocks opened with a 13-9 lead eight minutes into the game, sparked by a 3 from Markeshia Grant right off the bat. Sutton hit a couple of quick baskets for a 7-2 South Carolina lead before the Lady Vols evened things up on a traditional three-point play and a put back. Sutton and Grant hit back-to-back mid-range jumpers to answer. After a Taber Spani move on the low block, Sutton’s jumper from the right side made it 13-9 with 12:04 left in the half.

Tennessee scored the game’s next eight points, largely by controlling the boards, but the Gamecocks had answers. After the Lady Vols went up 19-16, the Gamecocks closed the half on another 13-9 run. Ieasia Walker got things going with a transition bucket off a defensive rebounds, then picked up a block on the other end. Grant drove and pulled up for a jumper and followed with a 3 from the left sideline. Tennessee scored five straight points to take a 24-23 lead before Grant put the Gamecocks back up with a jumper from the right elbow. Walker’s free-throw line jumper made it a three-point advantage. She added a driving layup between a pair of Tennessee buckets to send the Gamecocks into the locker room with a 29-28 lead.

The second half was played at a fever pitch as both teams looked to push the ball on offense at every opportunity. Grant continued her hot shooting, and more of her teammates were contributing as the Gamecocks looked to go inside and draw some fouls. After Tennessee stormed out of the locker room early in the period, the Gamecocks came back with a move on the right block from Aleighsa Welch. Grant hit a 3 form the right side to put her team back up 40-38, and following a shot clock violation from Tennessee, Sutton kept the offense going with a drive. Bruner’s free throw made it a 43-38 South Carolina advantage with 14:09 to play.

The Lady Vols stymied the South Carolina offense over the next five minutes, building a 49-46 lead until Bruner’s transition bucket stopped the 11-3 surge. The teams traded baskets Tennessee put together back-to-back buckets for a 57-50 lead with under five minutes to go. Walker ended the run with a reverse layup, and Grant drained yet another 3-pointer in transition to pull within two at 57-55. The Lady Vols answered with baskets on their next two possessions to stretch their lead to 60-55 with 3:37 on the clock.

The Gamecocks went inside on the next two trips down the court with Bruner hitting from the left block and Welch picking up a transition layup to cut the deficit to one. Welch’s defensive rebound set up Walker’s drive and pull-up jumper for a 61-60 edge with 1:42 to play. Another strong rebound on the defensive end set up Walker for a free throw with one minute to play. The Lady Vols set up for a 3-pointer that rimmed out, and the Gamecocks tied up the rebound.

With the possession arrow in its favor, South Carolina had the two-point lead and the ball with 46 seconds to play. Grant fired up a 3 that rimmed out, but Sutton battled for the rebound and was fouled with 12 seconds to go. The Lady Vols called a pair of timeout to ice the senior, but her teammates were building her confidence instead, and she calmly hit both ends of the 1-and-1 opportunity to seal the win.

It is the program’s first ever win over the Lady Vols in Knoxville and the Gamecocks’ first since 1980. Grant’s 27 points led all scorers, and Walker joined her and Sutton in double figures with 11 points. With six assists, it was the third straight game that Walker handed out at least six assists without committing a turnover. Welch led the way with nine rebounds.

South Carolina is back in action at Arkansas on Thu., Feb. 9, before coming home to Colonial Life Arena to face Florida on Sun., Feb. 12.

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