The South Carolina women’s basketball team opened NCAA tournament play on Friday against Norfolk State, defeating the Spartans 72-40 in a tough defensive game.
Starting strong on the offensive end, the Gamecocks shot 6-10 on field goals in the opening quarter, including 2-3 from behind the 3-point line, though South Carolina converted just half of its 12 attempts from the free throw line.
Heading into halftime, the Gamecocks had 10 points in the paint and 14 points from fast breaks, leading to a 34-18 advantage on the scoreboard.
While South Carolina held on to the lead for the rest of the game, it was not as clean of a game as the team may have hoped. Second half shooting woes stunted the Gamecocks' attack, as the team shot below 40% in both the third and fourth quarters.
“Tonight just wasn’t our night,” senior forward Aliyah Boston said. “The ball’s going to go in the hoop — they will — and we just have to be ready for when it does.”
Sophomore forward Sania Feagin entered the game with 3:04 left in the third quarter and made an immediate impact for South Carolina.
She scored 6 points in 51 seconds, increasing the Gamecock lead to exactly 30 points. Feagin finished the game 4-5 from the field with 9 points in 13 minutes of playing time, all in the second half.
“Coach always says ‘No matter what, if your number’s called, be ready to go out there,’” Feagin said.
Freshman forward Ashlyn Watkins finished her day shooting 2-5, but made only one of her four free throws, accounting for 5 points, four rebounds and no fouls in 16 minutes of playing time.
“I just tried to get (Watkins and Feagin) in the game with some of our older players just to give them some experience,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “I would like for some of our young post players to really get some experience playing in big games and having to be counted on.”
The shooting issues persisted throughout the second half, but South Carolina managed a 12-0 run to end the third quarter as the Spartans turned the ball over four times within the last four minutes of the period.
“(Norfolk State) challenged us," Staley said. "They forced us to play a certain way and to maintain a certain level of discipline, and if we didn’t, they made us pay for it.”
The Gamecocks finished the game shooting 38.9% from the field, which was about 8% under the team's season average, and 61% at the free throw line, even further below average.
Where South Carolina did succeed was continuing to play through the post and dominate in the paint, ending the game with 49 rebounds, including 16 on the offensive glass.
The Gamecocks will continue tournament play against the South Florida Bulls at Colonial Life Arena on Sunday at 1 p.m. The game will air on ABC.