CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charlotte played No. 12/10 South Carolina tougher than any opponent the Gamecocks have faced up to this point in the season, but in the end, the 49ers dropped a 76-61 decision to the nationally-ranked SEC opponent Sunday afternoon inside Halton Arena. The Niners are now 17-5 at home over the course of the last two years despite the setback.
Charlotte (4-5) trailed by just one at halftime, the closest an opponent found itself down to South Carolina at the intermission this season, but could not overcome a 14-2 mid-second half run as the Gamecocks seized control for good.
Sophomore Kira Gordon nearly netted her first career double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds, including eight on the defensive glass. She shared game-best honors on the boards with USC’s Elem Ibiam despite the Gamecocks owning a decisive height advantage.
Senior Ny Hammonds topped the 49ers with 14 points, draining 6-of-11 field goals, to go with her six caroms and four assists in the full 40 minutes. Charlotte allowed just seven more boards to its counterparts, over one-half of USC’s 13.4 rebounding margin entering the contest.
Ibiam paced South Carolina (9-0) with her 19 points, edging out the 18 recorded by Aleighsa Welch. Welch’s 18 all came after the intermission, as she was held to 0-of-2 from the floor in just six first-half minutes due to foul trouble.
A 7-of-7 free-throw performance lifted Tiffany Mitchell to 15 points and Asia Dozier poured in 10 to give the Gamecocks a quartet of double-figure scorers.
The first half featured a back-and-forth tussle after South Carolina jumped out to a 5-0 lead, all off the hand of Mitchell in the opening 2:23. The 49ers roared back with back-to-back makes from Gordon and junior Olivia Rankin in 70 seconds, but the Gamecocks answered to push their margin back to five, 9-4, with 15:18 remaining.
An 8-3 Charlotte spurt, featuring four charity tosses and another jumper in the lane by Rankin, forced the first tie at 12-12 with 13:01 left. Gordon then took advantage of a missed 3-pointer at the other end by giving the Niners their first lead, 14-12, at the 12:32 mark.
The teams would trade baskets over the course of nearly the next four minutes before Wilka Montout tear-dropped in a triple at 8:45 to push USC’s cushion back to five, 21-16. The margin swelled to as high as seven, 25-18, following a Dozier jumper at 7:26, but four-straight 49ers points pulled them within a possession, 25-22, just 38 seconds later.
South Carolina built its edge back to as much as six down the stretch, the last at 2:19 following a pair of Ibiam free throws for a 33-27 score. However, Charlotte’s freshmen pairing of Kenya Olley and Ciara Gregory, who immediately hit a 3-pointer upon entering the contest, cut the deficit down to one, 33-32, at the intermission. The 49ers had a chance to take the halftime lead but Hammonds’ attempt from behind the arc rimmed out.
Charlotte opened with the second half’s first score, a jumper by junior Ayanna Holmes, to reclaim a one-point margin, 34-33, with 19:27 to go. Ibiam then sparked a 5-1 USC run with a layup, but Hammonds was able to drain her second shot from long range to force another deadlock, 40-40, with 16:51 to play.
A scooping layup from sophomore Tori Carter put the 49ers back on top and the teams traded baskets during the next three minutes before an old-fashioned three-point play at 12:09 from Welch inched the Gamecocks ahead, 49-48. The played seemed to change the momentum of the contest, as South Carolina used it as a catalyst for a 10-0 run during an over five-minute period, to mount a 56-48 lead.
Freshman Lefty Webster was able to end the Niners’ lull with a jumper at 7:20 but Welch and Dozier countered with layups on the next two USC possessions to give the visitors a 60-50 advantage at the 5:55 mark. It marked the first double-digit lead for either side.
Charlotte was able to trim the gap to eight three times over the next two minutes, but it could get no closer in the final stretch. South Carolina eventually pushed its margin to as high as 16, 74-58, with 44 seconds left before Sigmon tossed in a trey with 37 seconds remaining for the final 49ers points.
Another nine-day break is next for Charlotte, as it will conclude final exams and the fall semester this week before trekking back on the road, Dec. 17, in DeLand, Fla., at Stetson, another NCAA Tournament foe from last year.
Charlotte Post Game Quotes
Head Coach Cara Consuegra
I thought we played very well for about 29 minutes. Our players came out very focused; they had great preparation for this game. And for about 29 minutes, we executed the game plan perfectly, both defensively and offensively. We got the exact looks that we thought we could get offensively, especially out of the ball screens at the first half.
Then we were able to take a lot of things away from them defensively. We got some great doubles in the post and really made things tougher for them. This is a team that shoots the ball great and we hold them to 35 percent in the first half. Unfortunately we started to wear down a little bit and lose our focus. They’re too good of a team, and if you lose your focus for just a couple of minutes, they’re going to come right at you and that’s exactly what happened.
Our game plan going in was to try to keep them out of the paint and off the free throw line. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to achieve that. We gave up 44 points in the paint and 33 free throws. That’s not going to beat a team like that. There are no moral victories here. We’re here to win and we want to be the type of program that can beat teams that are in the Top 12, Top 10; and our team knows that and they’re disappointed.
I think at the same time that this shows the type of team that we are capable of being. We have a lot of talent. We did this with one of our best players who is away from our team right now and we know what we are capable of. We just need to start to mature and start to understand the team that we are capable of being. There’s not time to wait anymore. There’s no time to wait for experiences, there’s no time to wait to grow up. It’s time to grow up. And to be the team that we were for the first 29 minutes, we need to be that for the rest of the year, and if we do that, we can still beat our goals. We’re going into finals this week. We’re going to take care of academics and then we are going to get ourselves ready to win at Stetson next week.
On problems with more zone in the second half
I think the thing it did was, it changed the tempo of the game and I thought our pace and our attacking mentality was fabulous until they went to the zone. Then that really put us off-balance and I think that we lost our pace offensively. We didn’t move the ball quick enough and we didn’t take advantage of the gaps in the zone that were there, and I think that carried over to our defensive pace. We weren’t as good as transition, we weren’t getting up and playing things as well and it just kind of lulled us to sleep in a way and that’s something we talked about in time outs, but we just weren’t able to adjust.
On positive takeaways from today’s game
The positive is that it shows our team what we’re capable of. You’re looking at a team that has three players returning that played significant minutes. We were without Gabby Tyler, who is one of our significant players. We were able to do a lot of things well. I think that our team needs to gain confidence from that. I think that we can be a very good team this year. But we have to start to own that and we have to start to understand who we are and what we can be and hopefully being able to do that for a lot of this game will help us with that.
On what can be corrected for the rest of the season
The most important thing going into finals is we want to take care of academics and make sure that our players finish really well, and we will do that. At the same time, finals week is a really great time to go back to the basics and the fundamentals and we will spend a lot of time continuing to sharpen who we are defensively and offensively. I think that we need to spend a lot of time shooting the ball, so that when somebody goes to the zone we are able to knock down some shots better. I think we will take advantage of every minute that we can in practice and start preparing for Stetson next week.
On where the team is at this point in the season
I think that being 4-5 right now, I do not believe that record shows the type of team that we are or the type of team that we can be. I think this non-conference has certainly been challenging, but that’s the type of coach I am. I want to play a challenging schedule and I want our players to be tested. I want to be able to go up playing against some of the best teams in the country and that’s what we did tonight. But at the same time we’ve got to continue to get better. We don’t want to be a .500 or below .500 team and I think that you’ve seen improvement from us as we’ve gone on. And I think that our improvement can continue to grow. Like I told the team in the locker room, we don’t need to wait anymore. I think there was some uncertainty from the beginning of the season with a lot of players in different roles and a lot of people wondering who is going to step out for who we lost last year. I think a lot of those questions have been answered, and now it is time for us to move forward and be the great team that we can be.
Sophomore Kira Gordon
On South Carolina switching to a zone in the second half
Yeah, like coach said, it kind of slowed us down both offensively and defensively. We’re slow getting to open areas in the paint, which caused things to go downhill from there.
On stepping up when Alexander was in first-half foul trouble
Yeah, I tried to pick up what she was doing and also Lefty (Webster) came in and she did really good with the rebounds and easy put-backs.
On filling the hole by Gabby Tyler’s absence
Gabby is such a great player and you can definitely tell where she is missing in a game, but I feel like, overall, the post players came together. We had a new defensive plan. We doubled the post and it worked the first half and the second half we kind of lost that focus. Yeah, we miss Gabby, but we picked up and I feel like she would be proud of us, especially in the first half.
Senior Ny Hammonds
On progression of younger players this season
I feel like we are progressing every game. In practice, we focus on trying to stay focused. Like coach said, we only stayed focused for about 30 minutes of this game, and you saw immaturity, and so I think our young players are getting better.
On where the team can improve
I feel like we have enough talent. The talent is there. We need preparation, practice and staying focused on the game plan that the coaches give us.
On comfort level of shot attempts
The shots that I was taking were the shots that I love, pull-ups. So they were giving me that, so I’m just comfortable with pull-up shots.
On what team can take away from a game like this
I feel like one thing we definitely learned is confidence. Just knowing that when it was previously said how well we were playing against a ranked team, I feel like that gave us a lot of confidence.
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