COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A tough night on offense spelled trouble for Carolina as the No. 8 North Carolina State Wolfpack defeated the No. 1 team in the country 54-46, handing the Gamecocks their first loss in 30 games.
“We just had no flow,” said Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley. “We were a team that I’ve never seen before. I’ve never coached a team that performed that way. It was pick-up basketball. I’m just not used to it. So, we’re going to have to figure some things out. Not a totally bad loss for us. I think it will open our eyes to see where we need to be and how we need to play every time we step on the floor.”
Both teams started the night cold on offense in the top-10 showdown. Combined, the Gamecocks (3-1) and Wolfpack (3-0) shot just over 32% percent from the floor. By the end of the first quarter, Carolina strung together a short 6-0 spurt with Laeticia Amihere leading the way to help the Gamecocks take a 12-9 lead after the first quarter.
Amihere finished the night with 11 points.
However, the shooting woes continued to linger for the Gamecocks in the second quarter. South Carolina was held to just eight points in the second quarter. While Dawn Staley’s squad struggled, the Wolfpack capitalized on the Gamecocks’ inability to score. The Wolfpack went on a 10-0 run to help them take a 21-20 lead at halftime.
The Wolfpack made things difficult inside for Aliyah Boston and the rest of the Carolina frontcourt. Boston only had two points in the first half as the N.C. State defense collapsed around her every time she touched the ball near the paint.
“They came in every time the ball entered the post,” Boston said. “I just think we need to just hit some outside shots or I needed, me personally, to get deeper in the post so I can just go up, even if the double came.”
“I think people are taking their space away and crowding their space,” Staley noted. “Either we have to shoot it quicker but on balance or we have to kick it out if we’re comfortable shooting in that space or we have to create some space. As a coach, we can tell them how to score it or what to do, but when you’re put in that situation time and time again, you go to your habits, and Aliyah’s habit is to fade away or to rush. Those are her habits are kicking in and, sooner or later, I think she’s going to continue to watch it and find some comfort in being in that space. I don’t think she’s comfortable yet being in that space. L.A. [Amihere}, she gets there. We’ve just got to focus and finish.”
In the third quarter, junior center Elissa Cunane powered the Wolfpack by scoring eight of the team’s 15 points in the period, but Carolina remained close trailing N.C. State 36-33 heading into the fourth quarter.
Carolina charged ahead with 5:50 left to play with a layup by LeLe Grissett, making it a 42-40 game. However, Cunane and Kayla Jones willed the Wolfpack ahead. They came together to help N.C. State put together an 8-1 run in the final two minutes to seal the win.
Carolina shot just 27% from the floor and 36% from the free-throw line Thursday night.
“We can’t rely on just being talented,” said Staley. “That talent has to play as a cohesive unit and we did not do that tonight and it’s disheartening. If you would’ve told me we needed to score 55 points to win this game, I would’ve been sitting back happy because this team when we’re doing it in a way that we’re connected. We were not connected tonight and that is disheartening.”
Jones had 16 points in the win for the Wolfpack while Cunane added 14 points.
Zia Cooke ended the contest with 11 points for Carolina. Boston came away with nine points.
Carolina’s last loss came back on November 28, 2019, against Indiana at the Paradise Jam. Thursday’s loss ends a 29-game winning streak for the Gamecocks dating back to last season.
“It’s 24 hours. Coach says we’ve got to turn the page,” Amihere said. “We’ve got other games coming up that we’ve got to prepare for. It’s tough. We’re going to go back. We’re going to watch film. We’ve got to go back to practice and fix all of the kinks that we need to fix and attack the weekend strong. I think, when we play games back to back like this, we’ve got to move on quickly and not dwell on the past because, at the end of the day, there’s a lot of games to play. Obviously, we want to win them, but we’ve got to keep moving.”
South Carolina returns to action on Sunday when they travel to Iowa State at noon as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.