COLUMBIA, S.C. (USC SID) – No. 6/5 South Carolina suffered its first SEC road loss of the season Sunday afternoon, falling to Missouri 62-60 despite a big fourth quarter from junior forward A’ja Wilson. The Gamecocks dropped to 22-4 overall and 12-2 in conference play with the setback, while the Tigers now sit at 19-9 and 9-5 in league action.
Missouri scored the go-ahead basket with less than one second remaining when Tiger guard Lindsey Cunningham drove into the lane and laid it in to put her team in front 62-60. Carolina’s bid to tie the game with 0.6 seconds to play fell short when Wilson ran out of time on the right block after receiving the in-bounds pass. Wilson shot 9-of-11 from the floor for the game and finished with a team-high 23 points, including all nine of Carolina’s points over the final 5:41 of the contest. Gamecock junior guard Allisha Gray added 13 points to go with three steals and three assists.
Wilson along with junior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore’s defensive efforts kept the Gamecocks in the game after a 7-0 Missouri run gave the Tigers a 54-51 lead with less than six minutes to play. A tough runner from the right side by Wilson made it 54-53, and it remained a one-possession game at 58-56 after the forward cleaned up a missed layup by Cuevas-Moore, whose steal seconds earlier set up the basket with 2:35 to play. Wilson’s final bucket of the game a minute later evened the score at 58 before Cuevas-Moore again delivered on the defensive end with a steal. Wilson was fouled on Carolina’s next possession, and two free throws from the Hopkins, S.C., native put the Gamecocks in front 60-58 with 53 seconds remaining. Cunningham’s layup off a missed 3-pointer from the Tigers knotted the game at 60 with 35 seconds to go before the guard tallied the game-winning points on Missouri’s next trip down the floor.
Plays on the defensive end led to points for Carolina early and helped establish a 6-4 Gamecock lead midway through the first quarter. A steal from Tyasha Harris set the freshman guard up for a layup on the break, and Gray’s theft minutes later created an uncontested basket the other way that gave the Gamecocks the two-point advantage. The Tigers’ first 3-pointer of the afternoon put them in front 7-6, and another field goal from beyond the arc by Missouri made it 10-6 with 3:15 to play in the period. Carolina collected more points down low, and a layup from Wilson followed by a jumper from just inside the free throw line by junior guard Kaela Davis evened the score at 10 late in the quarter. Eight of the Gamecocks’ first 10 points of the game came in the paint, and Missouri headed to the first break with a 15-10 advantage after scoring the final five points of the period.
Gray opened the second quarter with Carolina’s first field goal from distance, connecting on a straightaway 3-pointer to cut the Missouri lead to 15-13 three seconds into the period. Her basket sparked an 8-0 Gamecock run, as a three-point play from Wilson followed by two free throws from Cuevas-Moore 35 seconds later put Carolina ahead 18-15 with 8:39 left in the first half. The next few minutes featured a back-and-forth pace, with both teams exchanging points. The Gamecocks tallied two more points off turnovers when Cuevas-Moore stole the ball away and raced down the court before getting fouled on a layup attempt. Her two free throws brought Carolina even with the Tigers at 20-20 before the Gamecock backcourt continued to deliver points from the charity stripe. A pair of shots from the line by Gray gave the Gamecocks a 25-24 lead, and Davis’ first two free throws of the contest again put Carolina in front at 27-26 with just under two minutes left in the quarter.
The Gamecock defense was the difference the rest of the half, and a steal by sophomore guard Doniyah Cliney eventually set up Wilson for another three-point play when the junior cleaned up the guard’s layup attempt in transition. The ensuing free throw marked the final point of the half for Carolina, which headed to the locker room leading 30-26 after closing the quarter on a 7-2 run. The Gamecocks held Missouri scoreless over the final four minutes of the period, forcing five turnovers during the stretch. Carolina’s impressive first-half defensive showing was capped off by the second charge taken by Davis, who established position near the right side of the paint and forced the Tigers’ 14th turnover with a second to play in the second quarter. Wilson led all scorers with 10 points through the first two periods.
Two tough layups from the right side by Gray and Davis established Carolina’s largest lead of the game at 34-28 with 8:27 to play in the third quarter. A great pass from Coates to a streaking Gray set the junior up for another layup that put her in double figures and stretched the advantage to 36-28, and baskets inside from Coates and Wilson made it 40-33 midway through the quarter. Missouri answered back with the game’s next seven points to tie the contest at 40, and the Tigers took their first lead of the half on a layup that made it 42-40 with 3:42 to play in the period. Gray halted the run with an acrobatic bank shot down low to even the contest before the Gamecock frontcourt help swing the momentum towards Carolina. Wilson’s jumper from beyond the free throw line squared the two teams at 44, and a nice move from freshman forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan freed up the forward for a layup on the right block that sent Carolina into the final break with a 48-44 cushion.
Both teams traded field goals from deep to start the fourth quarter, with Herbert Harrigan knocking down her first 3-pointer of the year to hand the Gamecocks a 51-47 lead. Another 3-pointer from the Tigers cut the Carolina advantage to 51-50 and sparked a 7-0 Missouri run that put the Tigers in front 54-51.
Carolina connected on just three of its 18 attempts from beyond the arc and shot 41.2 percent for the game. The Gamecocks forced 21 Missouri turnovers and held a slight 32-30 advantage in points in the paint.
Guard Lindsey Cunningham delivered the win for the Tigers after converting a layup that put Missouri in front 62-60 with less than one second to play in the game.
The Gamecocks were unable to find their stroke from beyond the arc in the loss. Carolina made just one 3-pointer in the second half and finished the game 3-of-18 from deep.
- Each of Carolina’s two losses in SEC play this season have come by two points. The Gamecocks fell to Tennessee 76-74 at home on Jan. 30.
- Five of Gamecock junior forward A’ja Wilson’s eight 20-point games this season have come in conference play.
- Sunday marked the second-straight game Carolina forced at least 20 turnovers. Vanderbilt coughed the ball up 20 times in its 82-51 loss to the Gamecocks Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena.
- Junior guard Allisha Gray has led Carolina in assists eight times this season. Her 73 assists on the year rank second among Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks play their final road game of the regular season on Thu., Feb. 23, when they face No. 23/24 Texas A&M. Tipoff against the Aggies is set for 9 p.m. ET, and the contest can be seen on SEC Network.