COLUMBIA, S.C. (USC) -- No. 21 South Carolina tied the school record for wins to open a season with a 69-35 victory over Furman Sunday afternoon in at the Colonial Life Area, improving to 10-0. The Gamecock defense set the tone in the game, recording season highs in blocked shots with nine, steals with 15 and turnovers forced with 24. Freshman guard Tiffany Mitchell led the team in scoring, tallying 16 points, and tied senior guard Ieasia Walker for most steals, grabbing five.
The Gamecocks came out in the first half with defensive intensity, forcing four Paladin turnovers in the opening five minutes. The strong defense allowed South Carolina to overcome a sluggish offensive start, but once the offense got on track, it kept on going. The inside combination of Aleighsa Welch and Ashley Bruner handed the first 6-0 run, and others joined in after Teshia Griswald netted the Paladins' first points of the game at the 14:36 mark.
With an 8-4 lead with 13:22 left in the first half, South Carolina hit its stride, beginning with a 7-0 run that featured a pair of steals on the defensive end and points from four different Gamecocks. Mitchell kicked off the surge with a drive up the lane for a 10-4 South Carolina edge. After a Walker steal, Welch hit a layup. Sancheon White swiped a steal on the next Furman possession, and Walker hit 1-of-2 from the free throw line after getting fouled in transition. Sophomore center Elem Ibiam snagged a defensive rebound on the Paladins' next trip up the floor and was rewarded on the offensive end, hitting form the left block to put the Gamecocks up 15-4 with 11:53 to play in the period.
Furman drew within single digits four times over the next four minutes, but the Gamecocks closed the half on a 16-8 run to take a 37-20 lead into the locker room at halftime. Wilka Montout was a big part of the spurt, accounting for half of South Carolina's points in the spurt as she stretched the defense out with mid-range and long jump shots. Turnovers continued to pile up for Furman as well, and the Gamecocks closed the half turning 13 Paladin turnovers into 19 points before the break.
The Gamecocks returned in the second half with the same energy and scored 11 of the half's first 13 points. The Gamecocks forced three turnovers and turned them into six points during the surge. After Furman netted the first points of the half, South Carolina kept the Paladins off the board for nearly five minutes, establishing a commanding 48-22 edge with 14:24 left to play in the game.
South Carolina's 34-point margin of victory is the third largest in the Dawn Staley era and the highest this season. The Gamecocks turned Furman's 24 turnovers into 31 points and collected 42 of their 69 points in the paint.
Mitchell was joined in double figures offensively by Welch, who netted 11, and Montout, who finished with 10, including her eight in the first half. Walker's five steals were one shy of her career high, and she added nine points to the offensive effort as well. Ibiam turned in a solid game with eight points and a team-high nine rebounds in 22 minutes of action.
The Gamecocks have a break for exams this week, and are not back in action until Wed., Dec. 19, when No. 1 Stanford comes to Colonial Life Arena for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.