Dawn Staley got the biggest home win of her South Carolina career Thursday night, and it was delivered by an unlikely, but appropriate, source.
Junior Courtney Newton scored a season-high 16 points to carry the Gamecocks past her home-state team, No. 20 Georgia, 57-48 in Colonial Life Arena. It was South Carolina’s first home win against a ranked team since it beat No. 14 Minnesota in December of 2005.
“I had been starting as a post, and Coach Staley asked me at shoot-around, ‘Do you know why you are starting as a guard?’ I said, ‘To play defense and box out,’ and she said, ‘That’s exactly right,’” Newton said. “I knew my role, but I also know I can shoot the ball so when I got the opportunity, I knew I had to be ready to shoot.”
Newton, a native of Flowery Branch, Ga., made a career-high five 3-pointers and didn’t miss from behind the arc. She set a career-high in SEC play and notched her highest total since scoring 17 against Buffalo in her injury-shortened freshman season.
“We didn’t consider her an unlikely (scoring) source,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said. “What’s difficult is when a team gets over 25 percent of their points on five shots by the same person. You have to give credit. She was terrific. That’s money.”
The Gamecocks (12-9, 4-4 SEC), who were 0-4 against ranked teams this season, have beaten Georgia six times in 36 tries and two of those wins belong to Staley. South Carolina beat No. 14 Georgia last season in Athens.
Georgia (16-4, 6-1) dropped its first conference game of the season.
A week ago, Staley, who is in her third season in Columbia, bemoaned her lack of a signature win at the school. Thursday night took care of that, she said. The Gamecocks forced 16 Georgia turnovers and didn’t allow the Lady Bulldogs to hit a 3-pointer all night.
“Our defense is finally starting to create some offense for us,” Staley said. “I am pretty good with it, but I probably won’t tell our team that.”
Newton, who has had three ACL surgeries since her senior season in high school, moved into the starting lineup three games ago and had 13 points total in 16 games this season.
“I think the basketball gods were good to her today,” Staley said. “I am really happy for her because she has worked. She has worked her tail off. You want her to be able to see her work in the form of something tangible. Defense isn’t all that tangible, but certainly this is a night she will always remember.”
Newton’s timing was as impressive as her total. Four of her 3-pointers came in the second half, and all five of her baskets came when the teams were separated by three or fewer points.
“As a shooter, once you make your first one, you definitely get a little bit of confidence,” she said.
The Gamecocks never trailed in the second half but saw Georgia pull even twice. South Carolina didn’t lead by more than six points until a 3-pointer by La’Keisha Sutton with 2:16 remaining put it ahead 51-44.
Until Thursday, South Carolina had not beaten a ranked SEC team at home since February of 2003, when it toppled No. 13 Arkansas 83-59.
Postgame: Dawn Staley
Postgame: Ashely Bruner, Courtney Newton
|GEORGIA||Min||FG M-A||FT M-A||REB O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .345, FT .727.
3-Point Goals: 0-7, .000 (James 0-1, Ransford 0-1, Mitchell 0-1, Miller 0-2, Phillips 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 5 (Phillips 2, Hassell, Miller, Mitchell).
Turnovers: 16 (James 5, Miller 5, Ransford 2, Phillips 2, Willis, Mitchell).
Steals: 4 (Phillips 2, Willis, Mitchell).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .346, FT .722.
3-Point Goals: 8-21, .381 (Newton 5-5, Sutton 2-2, Walker 1-5, Nainima 0-3, Grant 0-6).
Team Rebounds: 6.
Blocked Shots: 3 (Newton, Bruner, Walker).
Turnovers: 15 (Sutton 4, May 2, Grant 2, Walker 2, Bruner 2, Strickland, Stephens, Newton).
Steals: 10 (Sutton 3, Walker 3, Grant 2, May, Newton).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials: Lawson Newton, Bonita Spence, Ed Sidlasky.