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Great guard play lifts Gamecocks to victory

N.C. State senior guard No. 2 Nikitta Gartrell pushes through USC sophomore guard No. 11 La'Keisha Sutton during the first half as USC defeats N.C. State 74-71 at Colonial Life Arena on Sunday.
N.C. State senior guard No. 2 Nikitta Gartrell pushes through USC sophomore guard No. 11 La'Keisha Sutton during the first half as USC defeats N.C. State 74-71 at Colonial Life Arena on Sunday. The State

South Carolina’s Samone Kennedy has never been the one to take a big shot with the game on the line.

But Sunday against North Carolina State, the junior point guard delivered the final dagger as the Gamecocks held on for a 74-71 victory against the Wolfpack atColonial Life Arena.

Clinging to a three-point lead in the final minute, Kennedy sank a 3-pointer, her third of the game, from the left wing with 19 seconds left.

“I didn’t even think about taking a shot,” Kennedy said. “All I know is I was watching the ball fly out of my hands. I was thinking ‘Oh my God, if I miss this shot, I’m going to hear it big time.’æ”

After Kelsey Bone rebounded a miss on the other end and was fouled, Kennedy walked toward the USC bench and received congratulations — even from coach Dawn Staley.

“Well, she (Staley) didn’t say anything at first,” Kennedy said. “I just heard all the assistant coaches saying ‘Good shot, good shot,’ but she didn’t say anything. So I looked at her and she was looking away and I was like ‘Coach, you know you want to give me five on that so, hey, come on, you know you want to.’ She gave me five, and I gave the bench five. It was a good feeling after that.”

Staley said the play was called for Kennedy to take the shot, but not a 3-pointer.

“We wanted her to turn the corner and get to the bucket,” Staley said. “Samone’s hit shots like that before. I was really happy for her.”

The Gamecocks won their third consecutive game thanks toKennedy and Valerie Nainima. Staley tinkered with the starting lineup coming off a 10-day break for exams, and the guard tandem combined for 45 points.

She scored 15 of her season-high 27 points in the first half to keep South Carolina (5-3) within striking distance as N.C. State led 36-35 at halftime.

“I wanted to go out and execute the game plan,” Nainima said. “After the first few shots, everything started hitting. æ.æ.æ. I was not going to let them take over. I wanted us to be in the game and in a good situation to win it at the end.”

Kennedy then came through in the second half, scoring 14 of her 18 points. The backcourt duo combined for 16 of USC’s final 24 points in a game that was tied nine times and had 14 lead changes.

“She is a warrior in every sense,” Staley said. “You want to be in the foxhole with Samone Kennedy.”

USC notes. Sophomore guard Courtney Newton will have season-ending knee surgery this week. Newton re-injured her right knee in practice on Friday and will have her second surgery in three years. ... Sophomore forward Charenee Stephens missed her second consecutive game with a left knee sprain. She is due to be reevaluated later this week.

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