COLUMBIA, S.C. – Coming through a hectic final 20 seconds, No. 2/2 South Carolina (17-0, 5-0 SEC) posted an electrifying win over No. 15/11 Texas A&M 59-58 Sunday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena. Both teams struggled from the free throw line in the waning seconds, but Gamecock senior Khadijah Sessions delivered the win moments after a dramatic Aggie layup tied the game. South Carolina sophomore A’ja Wilson dominated much of the contest, posting 26 points and eight blocked shots for the second time in as many games to help the Gamecocks to their third-straight win over a ranked opponent.
After Wilson gave the Gamecocks a four-point lead, 57-53, with 1:16 to play, the teams traded turnovers, leading to Courtney Walker’s two free throws with 20 second to play. Down two and needing the ball, the Aggies sent the Gamecocks to the free throw line, where they initially could not put the game away. Texas A&M secured the defensive rebound on the second miss, and Jordan Jones looked to convert quickly but was fouled on the way to the basket. At the line with 4.5 seconds to play, the Aggies’ senior guard missed the first but converted the second to make it a 57-56 Gamecock lead.
Again the Gamecocks went to the free throw line, where Sessions hit the second of her two attempts with 3.4 second to go. Neither team had a timeout for the final play, but the Aggies went to Taylor Cooper who launched a pass from the baseline to hit Chelsea Jennings in stride at the Texas A&M free throw line for a layup to tie the game with 0.9 seconds on the clock. The Gamecocks got the ball inbounds quickly to Sessions, who was immediately fouled before any time came off the clock. Sessions again missed the first free throw, but hit the second to give the Gamecocks a 59-58 lead. The Aggies looked for one more bit of magic with a long pass from the baseline, but Tiffany Mitchell intercepted it to close out the victory.
Early in the game, it was Wilson and Mitchell setting the tone on offense, but three straight turnovers let the Aggies build a 13-6 lead just 3:30 into the contest. Pressure defense spurred a 10-0 run for the Gamecocks with Wilson knocking down her first midrange jumper of the game before Mitchell slashed through the Aggie defense for a layup. The next three Gamecock field goals came on transition layups sparked by steals on the other end. Mitchell and sophomore guard Bianca Cuevas each registered a steal and an open layup to give the Gamecocks a 14-13 lead. Just over a minute later, Mitchell’s second steal of the game led to a layup for junior center Alaina Coates.
Defense dominated the early portion of the second quarter. Neither team registered a point until the 6:32 mark of the period, when Mitchell’s driving layup gave South Carolina an 18-17 lead. Another Wilson offensive rebound and layup sequence extended the Gamecock lead to three. The teams traded baskets before Sessions’ steal led to another transition layup for Wilson, giving South Carolina a 24-23 lead with 2:30 remaining in the half. Coming out of a timeout with 53 seconds left in the half, Coates floated an entry pass to Wilson for an easy layup, giving the Gamecocks a 26-25 lead, but Aggies’ layup at the buzzer gave Texas A&M a 27-26 lead at the break.
Wilson scored the first six points of the second half for the Gamecocks, with the first four coming on back-to-back possessions to take a 30-27 lead just over a minute into third quarter. She scored another layup just under a minute later and was credited with an assist on an entry pass to Coates, who finished with a layup for a 34-29 South Carolina advantage.
Both offenses went cold midway through the third quarter. The Gamecocks were held scoreless over a seven-minute span, which ended with a Sessions layup with four seconds left in the period. Texas A&M managed only nine points over that span, most of which came from Jones, who scored six consecutive points for the Aggies to take a 36-34 lead.
The Gamecocks trailed Texas A&M 38-36 entering the final quarter of play. A pair of Wilson free throws tied the game at 38 and put the sophomore over 20 points for the second-consecutive game and fifth time this season. A Cuevas corner 3 brought the crowd of 15,406 to life and gave the Gamecocks a 43-40 lead with 8:52 remaining.
Leading 43-42, Wilson blocked her seventh shot of the game, allowing Cuevas room to get out in transition and get to the free throw line. A fast-break layup from Sessions gave South Carolina a 46-42 lead with 6:46 remaining. The Aggies answered with baskets from Jones, the second a 3-pointer for a 47-46 lead with just under six minutes to play. Pressure defense from Sessions and Cuevas forced an Aggie turnover and led to a transition and-one layup for Cuevas, giving the Gamecocks a 49-47 lead with 5:09 on the clock. After being fouled hard going after a defensive rebound, Coates hit one of two free throws to give South Carolina a 50-47 lead with 4:56 to play. A defensive stop and another transition layup from Sessions extended the lead to five.
Wilson answered an Aggie layup with one of her own and hit one of two free throws a possession later to give South Carolina a 55-49 lead. Texas A&M scored on consecutive possessions, knocking the Gamecock lead down to two before Wilson’s baseline jumper rattled home for a 57-53 advantage heading into the final 76 seconds of action.
Coates may have struggled offensively, but dominated the glass, pulling in a game-high 11 rebounds. Mitchell joined Wilson in double-figure points with 11 to go along with four steals and two assists as she played the full 40 minutes.
After Texas A&M took a 47-46 lead on a Jordan Jones 3-pointer, the Gamecock defense upped its pressure. Khadijah Sessions’ steal led to a Bianca Cuevas layup that became a traditional three-point play, then Wilson and Coates each recorded a blocked shot on the Aggie’s next possession. After Coates hit a free throw, a Cuevas defensive rebound sparked at transition layup from Sessions that put the Gamecocks up 52-47 with 4:14 on the clock.
The Gamecocks outscored the Aggies 42-22 in the paint. South Carolina has not been outscored in the paint this season.
- Today’s win marked the third over a ranked opponent for the Gamecocks in the last seven days.
- Junior center Alaina Coates hauled in 11 rebounds, including five in the first quarter. It was her fifth consecutive double-digit rebounding performance.
- Sophomore forward A’ja Wilson tallied eight blocks, her third consecutive game with at least five rejections (8 vs. Kentucky – 1/14, 6 vs. Missouri – 1/10)
- South Carolina’s nine blocked shots marked the most for a Texas A&M opponent this season.
- The Gamecocks generated most of their scoring down low, scoring 42 of their 59 points in the paint.
- Over the last three games, A’ja Wilson averaged 21.0 points, 10.7 rebounds and 7.3 blocks.
- Texas A&M forward Courtney Williams was held to two points on 1-of-10 shooting from the floor. The senior entered Sunday’s contest averaging 13.6 points per game.
South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley
On how Sunday’s atmosphere helped the Gamecocks come away with the win
“The atmosphere was great. I don’t think we would win these types of games when put in these situations without our crowd.”
On South Carolina’s ability to rally back in tough situations.
“Those games are great teaching tools. Our players have been put in those situations and didn’t fret. Texas A&M played its best basketball that its played all season long, and we’re going to continue to get everyone’s best shot.”
South Carolina travels to Auburn on Thu., Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. for the first of two consecutive SEC road games, the second being a showdown with Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss. on Sun., Jan. 24, at 5 p.m.S