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Recap: No. 1 South Carolina escapes South Dakota State behind 14 blocks, late run

Both the South Carolina Gamecocks and South Dakota State Jackrabbits had terrible shooting nights, but South Carolina’s defense, thanks to its shot-blocking, was simply better.

Liberty v South Carolina
Brea Beal’s hustle was key for South Carolina Thursday night.
Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The South Dakota State Jackrabbits cut it to six with 6:38 to go, but the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks closed with a 15-3 run to win 62-44 Thursday night at Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Jackrabbit star Myah Selland scored all 12 of her points in the second half, including South Dakota State’s first seven of the fourth quarter. Her three at 7:10 remaining cut it to 47-39; Dru Gylten followed with two free throws to make it 47-41.

Sanford Pentagon was rocking at that point, but the moment was short-lived. South Carolina’s Kierra Fletcher, not known as a shooter, was left wide open all night and buried a deep two at 6:13 remaining to make it 49-41. Brea Beal immediately followed with a backcourt steal and put in a layup to make it 51-41 in the blink of an eye.

The Jackrabbits (7-5, 0-0 Summit) never got back within single digits. On a positive note, they held the No. 1 team in the nation to its second-lowest regulation scoring output of the season. Only No. 2 Stanford has surrendered fewer points to the Gamecocks through four frames (61).

It was an abysmal shooting night for both sides with South Carolina (10-0, 0-0 SEC) shooting 34.3 percent from the field compared to South Dakota State’s 27.3 percent effort. The Gamecocks were 2-of-15 from deep, while the Jackrabbits were 1-of-11.

South Carolina’s 14 blocks made the difference in the win. Beal led the way with five, while Kamilla Cardoso had four. The Jackrabbits managed to block just three shots. The high for any team this season is 15, accomplished by South Carolina and Troy.

Beal may have been the player of the game she added nine points, six rebounds, three assists and six steals. Cardoso finished with eight points and 15 rebounds while Cooke recorded a game-high 18 points. Aliyah Boston, sporting Christmas-colored hair, added 12 points, nine boards and two rejections.

An 11-2 South Carolina run from the 57-second mark of the first to 7:36 in the second was key in giving the Gamecocks an early advantage. South Dakota State led 8-7 before the run, which began with a great individual effort by Laeticia Amihere. She astutely poked the ball away near mid-court as the Jackrabbits were looking to make a pass and took it all the way in for a layup before following that up with a block on the next Jackrabbit possession, which led to a Cooke mid-range make that made it 11-8 Gamecocks after one.

A Boston jumper and a Cooke free throw opened the second to make it 14-8. Then, after a Brooklyn Meyer layup for South Dakota State, Cardoso scored four straight points to leave it at 18-10. South Carolina led by at least five for the remainder of the game.

The Gamecocks went from up nine at the break to gaining their largest lead of the first 31:29 (15) at the 4:56 mark of the third. That stretch was highlighted by a 6-0 run that featured Fletcher diving for a steal before making a mid-range shot on the ensuing possession and a Beal backcourt steal. Beal made an incredible effort to keep it in bounds and eventually got the ball back for a layup that made it 41-26 South Carolina. The Jackrabbits answered with a 6-0 run of their own to cut it to nine entering the fourth.

The Gamecocks looked to be pulling away early in the final frame, with a 47-34 lead at the 8:01 mark, but South Dakota State then went on a 7-0 run capped by Gylten’s free throws.

The Gamecocks had open threes all game long and passed many of them up to run their offense, which often didn’t yield great results against a good Jackrabbit defense. South Dakota State played off Fletcher, which was no surprise, but they also left Beal, a more-frequent 3-point shooter, open at times, as well as Boston, who is a capable 3-point shooter. South Carolina probably wasn’t encouraged by the fact that it was missing most of the threes it did take.