Senior Markeshia Grant started out hot and hardly slowed down as South Carolina was able to withstand a late Florida run to win 62-58 on Sunday afternoon at the Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks (19-6, 8-4) now have the most wins in a season under head coach Dawn Staley with four games still remaining in the regular season.
Head coach Dawn Staley
The Gators (16-9, 6-6) threw a lot of defenses and defenders at Grant, but no one could seem to stop her in the first half or at the crucial moments in the second half. Grant, who scored 16 points in the first half, finished with a game-high 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting, which includes 5-of-6 from three-point range.
“She’s not hesitant to shoot the ball,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said of Sunday’s top scorer.
The victory gave Staley 19 wins, which is the most of her South Carolina career. She posted 21 wins on two occasions while the head coach at Temple.
South Carolina got off to a hot start, thanks in large part to Grant, who knocked down a pair of triples and a two-pointer to help her team to a 14-7 lead in the first five minutes of play. Grant is the leading scorer for the Gamecocks, averaging 11.0 points per game entering the contest.
The Gators were able to hang around though as freshman Jennifer George came off the bench to score seven points in the first half. Florida kept the game within three possessions most of the first half but USC used a late little spurt to enter the break up 43-33.
“They set the tone from the beginning, especially their guards,” Florida head coach Amanda Butler said. “They were aggressive and put us back on our heels. You can’t play a soft 20 minutes and expect to be able to come out with a win.”
After the break, Florida was able to cut into the South Carolina lead. Even with leading scorer this season and former Gamecock Jordan Jones quiet throughout the game, Florida was able to chip away.
The visitors tied the game at 54 apiece with 6:33 remaining in the game. The Gamecocks, however, wouldn’t relinquish the lead, which they had held since Grant’s first three-pointer of the game put her team up 5-2.
Senior guard Markeshia Grant
It was Grant who put the Gamecocks back on top nailing a triple for a 57-54 lead with 5:02 remaining in the game.
“I think we just stay together at the end of games,” Grant said. “I think we focus in and know what is at stake. We come together and just finish.”
The Gators had a chance to take the lead with under a minute remaining but it was the diminutive Grant, who stands just 5-foot-6, who pulled down the big defensive rebound after a pair of misses by UF underneath the rim.
Senior La’Keisha Sutton gave the Gamecocks a cushion as she went one-on-one with Jones. She dribbled from the top of the key down the left side of the lane an hoisted a left-handed scoop shot, which fell to give South Carolina a 61-58 lead with 32 seconds remaining.
“Towards the end of the game, I thought to myself I needed to be aggressive,” Sutton said. “I went in with the mindset that I was going to get the bucket or get fouled.”
Sutton made one of two-free throws with 1.4 seconds remaining in the game to provide the final 62-58 victory.
“Keisha is a good free throw shooter,” Staley said. “If they fouled her, we wanted her on the line. She could get us to victory or the agony of defeat. Luckily for us, she made the play.”
The Gamecocks shot just 28 percent in the second half, but the team shot 41.4 percent for the game. Led by Grant’s 5-of-6 performance, South Carolina was 8-for-13 from behind the three-point line giving it a 61.5 percent clip for the game.
South Carolina will host No. 21 Georgia on Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Life Arena. The game will also be broadcast on FoxSports Net.