At Freeport, Bahamas, with its post game swallowed and nearly down for the count, the No. 1 Gamecocks leaned on their guards and their prized freshman to rally for a 67-63 win over No. 22 Syracuse on Friday.
USC (5-0) won the Lucaya Division of the Junkanoo Jam by returning from a 12-point deficit in the first half and then finding just enough offense in the final two minutes. Asia Dozier banged home USC’s ninth 3-pointer for a 63-61 lead immediately after Syracuse had made two free throws for a 61-60 advantage, and then tournament MVP A’ja Wilson took over.
Wilson, the No. 1 prospect in the country, put back Tiffany Mitchell’s miss for a five-point lead and then stole the ball in the final 30 seconds. Syracuse was forced to foul and Mitchell made one of two free throws to cinch the win.
Wilson had 14 points and nine rebounds while Mitchell, also an all-tournament selection, had 21 points and eight rebounds. Tina Roy stroked four 3-pointers off the bench and finished with 14 points.
Syracuse’s 2-3 zone crushed USC’s inside game and dominated the rebounding. Posts Alaina Coates, Jatarie White and Elem Ibiam had zero points and the Orange (4-1) won the rebounding total 50-35.
USC had to lean on its guards and only shot 36 percent from the floor, including 9-of-26 from the 3-point line. Dozier’s lead-taking 3 was just her fourth of the season. USC also continued to struggle from the free-throw line, making 12-of-20, but did force 16 turnovers compared to giving up just five.
Khadijah Sessions gave USC its first lead of the second half by converting a driving layup that was nearly a charge. Roy started the rally with a 3-pointer when the Gamecocks trailed 59-54 with 4:31 to go.
USC hosts North Carolina Central at 7 p.m. on Monday.