Cooper leads No. 10 South Carolina past Alabama State, 94-38
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Te’a Cooper brushed off the early jitters in her return to the court. Bianca Jackson did the same playing with her mom on the opposing bench.
Cooper scored 17 points in her South Carolina debut to lead the 10th-ranked Gamecocks to a 94-38 victory over Alabama State on Sunday in their season opener.
Cooper, a Tennessee transfer, had 15 points by halftime as the Gamecocks built a 60-20 cushion. She had sat out the past two seasons because of the transfer and a knee injury while at Tennessee.
“It felt great. I was a little nervous in the beginning but my teammates made me feel better,” Cooper said. “They calmed me down and everything went well. We got the win.
“They were telling me, it’s just a game, just like practice,” she said.
Jackson and top freshman recruit Destanni Henderson each scored 13 points against the Hornets (0-2). The Southwestern Athletic Conference team is coached by Jackson’s mother Freda Freeman-Jackson.
Jackson hit three 3-pointers in the third quarter to account for most of South Carolina’s 16 points.
“It was great to get Bianca back here in front of her family and friends, all the people that watched her develop into a great basketball player,” Freeman-Jackson said.
“She didn’t really say anything” during the game, Jackson said. “We caught eye contact a couple of times and gave a little friendly smirk, but she didn’t say anything.”
Mikiah Herbert Harrigan also had 11 points and six rebounds for the Gamecocks, who had 22 steals. They forced 33 turnovers.
Cooper made all eight free throw attempts and had three assists and three steals.
The Hornets were led by Jayla Crawford’s 10 points.
The Gamecocks are replacing national player of the year A’ja Wilson, the No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick.
They used a 23-4 run to take control in the first quarter, including a series of forced turnovers and fast-break chances that mostly led to baskets or free throws. South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said she wants this to be an up-tempo team, especially until the post players get more experience.
“I want our players to be able to play free, do what they do best,” Staley said. “I do want us to move the ball. I don’t want to be a team which has to Flintstone it and take two or three dribbles in place to get going. We need to move the ball and shift the defense.”
Freeman-Jackson called it “a once in a lifetime opportunity” to have Staley and the Gamecocks on campus.
“We knew coming in that we were outmanned,” she said. “You’re talking about the No. 10 team in the country and two years ago won the national championship. But at the same time I thought it would be a fun game for the community to come out to see a team that is greatness.”
South Carolina: Made 11 of 18 shots (61.1 percent) in a 33-10 second quarter. Hit 22 of 31 free throws.
Alabama State: Has dropped two straight to SEC teams, including an 87-35 loss at Kentucky. Shot 12 of 45 (26.7 percent)
The Gamecocks agreed to a 2-for-1 deal with Alabama State, hosting games last season and next season with a visit to Dunn-Oliver Acadome in between.
South Carolina hosts in-state rival Clemson on Thursday night.
Alabama State hosts Samford on Thursday night.