Savannah State falls to top-seeded Gamecocks
Mar. 21, 2015
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Savannah State coach Cedric Baker may not have liked all he saw in the Lady Tigers' first NCAA Tournament game. He's got no doubt they'll get another chance very soon.
Savannah State (21-11) was overwhelmed by top-seeded South Carolina, 81-48, on Friday night. The Lady Tigers kept it a 10-point game much of the first 25 minutes until the Gamecocks' size, strength and athleticism took over.
Still, Baker is confident his Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champs are moving in the right direction.
"Just looking at our program, how far we've come," he said. "I'll say to you, I think we'll be back."
The Lady Tigers have traveled a successful road since the last time they faced the Gamecocks, losing 111-49 back on Dec. 14. They went 17-3 in their last 20 games, sweeping to the first ever MEAC tournament crown earlier this month to qualify for the NCAAs.
Ezinne Kalu said she and her teammates were convinced they could pull off the improbable No. 16-vs.-No. 1 upset. "The fact we made it this far is sweet, the fact that we lost is the bitter part," Kalu said.
South Carolina (31-2) took over with a 21-1 run early in the second half.
It was South Carolina's first time hosting an NCAA game at home in 13 years.
"Overall, I was happy with the atmosphere and really happy with the outcome," Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said.
A'ja Wilson scored 15 points and Alaina Coates and Welch had 12 points each.
The Gamecocks, who set a program record with their 31st win, shot 64 percent in putting away the Lady Tigers for a second time this season. South Carolina won its 33rd straight at home. It will have one more at Colonial Life Arena Sunday when it faces Syracuse or Nebraska on Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16.
The Gamecocks last played an NCAA game on campus in 2002. Ever since, they've been prevented by the NCAA's ban against the Confederate flag which flies on Statehouse grounds. The governing body changed its rules, allowing the top 16 seeds to play the first two rounds at home.
Kalu had 21 points for Savannah State.
After Jasmine Norman's bucket made it 49-39 with 16:04 left, the Gamecocks went on their game-changing run to take control and win their sixth straight opening NCAA Tournament game.
This figured to be mismatch in a lot of ways. Besides only one 16th seed upset over a No. 1 in history — Harvard's take down of top-seeded Stanford in 1998 — these teams met in December with the then No. 1 ranked Gamecocks running away for a 111-49 victory.
South Carolina used its strong inside game of 6-foot-5 Wilson, 6-4 Alaina Coates and 6-4 Elem Ibiam to dominate in the blowout. The power trio combined for 64 points and 20 rebounds.
This time, though, the Lady Tigers did a much better job keeping South Carolina from roaming free inside. Coates broke free for three quick baskets for a 26-12 lead midway through the opening period as the Gamecocks threatened to run and hide once again. Instead the MEAC champs pushed the pace for easy buckets of their own.
South Carolina forwards Welch, Ibiam, Wilson, Coates and 6-4 Jatarie White were a combined 19-of-21 shooting for 37 points.
Baker said he put in some new offensive wrinkles at the last minute trying to take away South Carolina's inside strength. Things worked well, he said, for about 25 minutes, "and then we lost our composure." Savannah State was outscored 32-8 the final 15 minutes.
Savannah State: The Lady Tigers posted several program-shaking victories this season. Their 68-58 win over Florida was their first over a Southeastern Conference team and they handed five-time MEAC champion Hampton its first conference loss in 54 games on Jan. 24.
South Carolina: South Carolina shot 72 percent in the opening half, making 18 of 25 shots. ... Gamecocks leading scorer Tiffany Mitchell was named one of four finalists for the Naismith Award.
Savannah State season is over.
South Carolina will play either Syracuse or Nebraska Sunday in the second round