A game between two top-15 teams both riding SEC-best six-game winning streaks did not disappoint.
Points were at a premium, and a basket from former Gamecock Kelsey Bone proved to be the difference as No. 14 Texas A&M defeated No. 15 South Carolina 50-48 Sunday afternoon in front of 10,101 fans at the Colonial Life Arena.
Bone’s putback from the paint hit off the back iron and went in with 8.7 seconds remaining for the final points in a game that saw 12 lead changes and nine ties. The biggest lead by either team was seven.
“They made a play at the end of the game,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “We were in it, had them boxed out and it took a funny bounce. They put themselves in position to win the game.”
The Gamecocks’ final shot at forcing overtime or getting the win fell short when Ieasia Walker’s desperation 3-pointer from the right wing clanged off the front of the rim at the buzzer.
“It was supposed to be a high pick-and-roll,” Walker said. “I saw a lane open up, then they collapsed and I saw Ashley (Bruner) open. And when I tried to make the pass, it got tipped. I got it back at the 3-point line, so I tried to get a shot up, and it was just short.”
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair got what he was expecting from the Gamecocks. The SEC-leading Aggies (19-5, 9-1) shot 35 percent but did enough to win its seventh in a row.
“What a ball game,” Blair said. “I said before the ball game started, whoever won it, it was going to be ugly and it was. The second half was every woman for themselves. Nothing came easy on any of our sets. We had to work and earn everything we got.”
Bone, who was roommates with Walker as freshmen, was a difference-maker in her return to Columbia after playing one season with the Gamecocks in 2009-10. She earned SEC Newcomer of the Year honors that season but transferred to Texas A&M to be closer to her Houston home.
She posted 13 points and 15 rebounds, and her size in the middle altered many USC shots inside. The Gamecocks missed 23 shots from within 5 feet, according to the postgame shot chart.
“We have to focus more,” said Walker, who led the Gamecocks with 16 points and four assists. “We missed a lot of layups today. Although they were big, I think we weren’t concentrating enough on making them. We were worried about their height bothering us. We have to worry about going up and staying with our shot.”
Bone had nothing but praise for her former team.
“I had no doubts coach Staley would get this program where it stands today,” Bone said. “My decision to leave was about me. Coming back, I have the utmost respect for everyone involved. That is the same coaching staff that recruited me and some of the same players I played with. For me, it was a little emotional, but I had to focus on the team I came into town with — and our biggest goal was to get another SEC road win.”
South Carolina (20-4, 8-3) can look back at the missed opportunities from the field and from the free-throw line. The worst free-throw shooting team in the SEC (54.6 percent) finished 10-of-22 from the line, including 8-of-18 in the second half when they reached the bonus with over 12 minutes to play.
“If I had (an answer), we would be sitting pretty right now,” Staley said of USC’s problems from the charity stripe. “We’ve had plenty of opportunities to open a game up.”
Tiffany Mitchell added 10 points for the Gamecocks, and Bruner had nine. But outside of Walker and Mitchell going 11-for-26 from the field, the rest of the Gamecocks were 7-for-38.
But Blair, who won a national title in 2011 with the Aggies and also coached at Arkansas, was impressed by South Carolina.
“We’ve played Kentucky, we’ve played Notre Dame and we’ve played Connecticut, and that’s as good as defensive team as we’ve seen,” Blair said. “Give (USC) a little credit. That’s how we built it at A&M. We built it with defense first because we could get the McDonald’s All-Americans. Build it with defense first then get you a little Dawn Staley to roll in there and then you got it. She should be proud of her kids.”