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Gamecocks knock off North Carolina

South Carolina used efficient offense, stifling defense and strong rebounding to upend No. 18/16 North Carolina 79-48 in the Carolina's Challenge Sunday afternoon at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The Gamecocks (9-2) exploded out of the gate and never looked back, executing the game plan to perfection from the opening tip.

While the offense surged, shooting 58.3 percent in the first half, the defense was just as electric throughout the contest as South Carolina held the nation's highest scoring defense 39.5 points below its season average. It was the third-largest margin of victory over a nationally ranked team in Gamecock history.

"This is a good win for a team," South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. "Our players have been working extremely hard and put in position to compete and win, and win in pretty good fashion. Our defense has been pretty steady. Some other players have been stepping up from time to time on the offensive end. We got our production from people we can count on to get production from. So, it was a good, quality win in that we got La'Keisha [Sutton] (going). Ieasia [Walker] played well. Although she didn't score a lot of points, she jump-started our defense. She controlled our basketball team and the tempo of the game. It was great for everybody to play well."

While the Gamecocks built their early-season success on defense, it was the offense that proved early that the Tar Heels would have their hands full. South Carolina opened with an 11-0 run starting with a pair of 3-pointers from Markeshia Grant. She needed the next two on a driving layup, and La'Keisha Sutton buried a 3 from the right win for the early double-digit advantage. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels, who entered the game out-rebounding opponents by 9.5 boards per game, were limited to one shot on their offensive possessions.

After UNC pulled within 13-5, the Gamecocks put together a 12-2 run, forcing three of the Tar Heels' 17 turnovers in the stretch. Ashley Bruner got the surge started with a move on the left block then took a charge from North Carolina's Chay Shegog on the other end. Ieasia Walker turned that miscue into a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, and Aleighsa Welch stuck back a Gamecock miss for a 20-5 advantage. Shegog interrupted the run with a bucket, but the Gamecocks went right back at it with Sancheon White hitting a long jumper from the left side. Grant hit a free throw after another North Carolina turnover, and after two more one-and-done possessions from the Tar Heels, Sutton sank a long jump shot for a 25-7 lead with 11:17 left in the half.

The lead twice stretched to 21 before the Tar Heels put together a run that cut South Carolina's lead to 12 with 3:03 left in the period. Candace Wood scored six of the 11 points during the stretch, while She'la White's free throws delivered the final margin of 36-24. The Gamecocks responded decisively, starting with Sutton's 3 from the left wing keying a 14-3 surge highlighted by four layups and an end-of-the-half 3-pointer from Tina Roy.

Trailing 50-27 at the break, North Carolina would get no closer in the second half as the Gamecock defense continued to frustrate the typically high-scoring Tar Heels. The Gamecocks' 31-point winning margin was the highest since the then-No. 23 Gamecocks upended then-No. 16 North Carolina by 32 (85-53) on Dec. 20, 2011.

South Carolina shot 47.1 percent from the field in the game, including 42.9 percent from 3-point range, and out-rebounded the Tar Heels 47-30. Walker's six assists led a season-best effort of 19 from the team. Sutton's 21 and Grant's 20 led the offense, making it the first South Carolina game with multiple 20-point scorers since February 2010. Welch joined the senior duo in double digits with 10 points to go with her game-high six rebounds.

The Gamecocks close the pre-holiday portion of their schedule with a noon tipoff at Colonial Life Arena on Wed., Dec. 21, against Savannah State.

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