GREENVILLE, S.C. (USC SID) – A dominant fourth quarter on both sides of the ball powered No. 5/5 South Carolina to a 59-49 win over No. 6/7 Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament championship game at Bon Secours Wellness Arena Sunday afternoon, delivering the Gamecocks’ third-straight tournament crown. Juniors Kaela Davis and A’ja Wilson each scored seven in the final period as South Carolina (27-4) overcame a five-point deficit and held the Bulldogs (29-4) to just four points in the final 10 minutes, including a scoreless final 4:42 of the game.
Davis continued her strong offensive production in the tournament, finishing the title game with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range, to earn a spot on the All-Tournament Team. Wilson strong-armed the Gamecocks to victory when it mattered, pulling down eight of her nine rebounds in the fourth quarter, during which she went 5-of-5 from the free throw line with aggressive offense. Her 19.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.3 blocks per tournament game made her the Tournament MVP.
After the Gamecocks took a 29-26 lead into the locker room at halftime, the Bulldogs took advantage of a spate of Gamecock turnovers in the third quarter, scoring eight points on five turnovers in the quarter to surge ahead 45-40 with 10 minutes left to play. Through the first 30 minutes the Bulldogs were out-rebounding the Gamecocks 23-15, but, just as head coach Dawn Staley said of her team’s semifinal game, the championship came down to “guts and rebounding” in the final period. And, South Carolina proved to have plenty of both.
The Gamecocks opened the fourth quarter on an 8-0 run, fueled by Davis’ 3 from the left wing and tough inside play from Wilson. The SEC Player of the Year dominated the defensive glass, adding a blocked shot to her five points as she attacked the rim to put the Gamecocks up 48-45 with 8:17 to play.
Mississippi State twice cut the lead to a single point over the next four minutes, but freshman Tyasha Harris delivered the first dagger with a shot-clock beating 3-pointer from the left wing off a well-delivered pass from Doniyah Cliney to put the Gamecocks up 53-49 with just under four minutes to play. Allisha Gray looked to compound the Bulldogs’ misery with a steal and driving layup but was called for the charge.
The Gamecocks kept the pressure on, largely by dominating the glass as they out-rebounded the Bulldogs 8-3 through six minutes of the period. Davis pushed the lead to 55-49 with a smooth drive to the rim, and the South Carolina defense sensed the victory on the horizon. Gray blocked a Morgan William jumper that Wilson corralled, and the junior then cleaned up the offensive glass on a Davis miss as the Gamecocks continued to milk the clock, using an entire minute before Mississippi State got the ball back.
Again it was Wilson delivering when it was time to win, blocking a putback attempt by Teaira McCowan and collecting the rebound with 1:50 on the clock. South Carolina went to Davis on the next possession, and Wilson cleaned up her misfire and Gray hit a runner to push the lead to eight with under a minute to go. Mississippi State looked for daylight around the 3-point line to claw its way back, but South Carolina would not be denied.
The Gamecocks finished the game with a 29-28 rebounding advantage as a 16-5 advantage in the fourth quarter turned the tide late. Wilson narrowly missed a double-double with nine rebounds to go with her 15 points and four blocks. As importantly, she held McCowan scoreless in the fourth quarter and drew four fouls from the SEC’s 6th Woman of the Year in the final 10 minutes of action.
South Carolina’s defense allowed just four fourth-quarter points on 13.3 percent field goal shooting in the decisive 10 minutes of the game. Every Gamecocks who played scored with Harris leading the next wave of offense with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting to go with her five assists.
Dawn Staley Opening Statement
“I just want to say it was a great atmosphere. We beat a tremendous basketball team in the Mississippi State Bulldogs. I thought it could have gone either way. I felt like our players, when it was time to step up, stepped up in a big way to get us this victory in an incredible atmosphere.”
Freshman Tyasha Harris hit a shot-clock beating 3-pointer to turn a one-point lead into a four-point margin with 3:57 to play, and the Gamecock defense did not allow the Bulldogs another point in the game.
South Carolina out-rebounded Mississippi State 16-5 in the fourth quarter after entering the period trailing on the glass 23-15.
- South Carolina joins Tennessee as the only programs to win three-straight SEC Tournament titles. The Lady Vols did it twice – 1998-2000 and 2010-12.
- The Gamecocks posted their ninth win over a top-25 team this season, including five over top-10 opponents.
- Over three games, South Carolina outscored its SEC Tournament opponents by 15.3 points per game, including double-digit wins over both ranked teams they faced. The Gamecocks shot 50.0 percent both overall and from 3-point range.
- Junior guard Kaela Davis averaged 16.3 points on 50.0 percent shooting, including 71.4 percent (5-of-7) from 3-point range.
South Carolina awaits its seeding and regional selection in the NCAA Tournament, which will be announced on Mon., March 13.