Welch leads Gamecocks to win over Drexel 58-55
COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina women's basketball fought back from 14 points down at halftime to defeat Drexel 58-55 Wednesday night at Colonial Life Arena. After trailing for most of the game, Gamecock senior Sancheon White hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to tie the score with just over a minute left and force overtime. In the extra period, a bucket by Ashley Bruner gave South Carolina the go-ahead points, and Aleighsa Welch sealed her fourth double-double of the season with a free throw to give the Gamecocks a three-point victory. The Gamecocks are now 8-0 on the season, which is the program's best start since 2002-03.
"That was a pretty good second half; I thought our players grew up," South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. "I thought our players really mentally and physically were in tune in the second half. They were chipping away at that lead and fortunately for us we came up with some big plays. I thought Tiffany Mitchell hit some big shots along with Ashley Bruner."
Mitchell led the Gamecocks with 14 points, 12 of which came in the second half, while Bruner and Welch followed with 12 apiece. Welch's career-high 15 rebounds included eight on the offensive end to deliver her team-high fourth double-double of the season.
Drexel's defense kept South Carolina at bay the entire first half, forcing the Gamecocks to go into the break trailing for the first time all season. The Dragons shut down the Gamecocks' interior game, allowing them to score only 22 points, including just four in the paint.
During the second half South Carolina chipped away at Drexel's lead out behind aggressive, determined play from the trio of double-digit scorers. A pair of turnovers opened the half for Drexel, and the Gamecocks converted both in rapid succession. Mitchell hit a layup, and Bruner had a put-back to bring the deficit down to 10 just over a minute into the period.
After collecting just 10 rebounds in the first half, South Carolina crashed the boards hard and looked to push the ball up the court quickly against the flagging Dragons. Drexel's top scorer Hollie Mershon hit a jumper at the right elbow to temporarily stop a South Carolina run, but with the crowd behind them, the Gamecocks turned up the pressure another notch.
Back-to-back baskets from Bruner made it a three-point game at 44-47 with 6:57 to play. Mershon was single-handedly holding the Gamecocks at bay, hitting from the left block and sinking a free throw for a 53-48 advantage with jut 3:50 play. With all 2,675 fans at Colonial Life Arena urging them on, South Carolina stayed after a pair of missed shots until Mitchell found the bottom of the net from the left corner to draw the Gamecocks within two with 3:25 on the clock.
Bruner blocked a shot on the next Drexel possession and hit 1-of-2 from the free throw line to narrow the gap to 53-52 with 2:34 to play. The Gamecocks forced the Dragons to the end of the shot clock the next time down the floor, but a turnover in transition led to a jumper from the left elbow from Renee Johnson-Allen with just over 90 seconds to go. After chasing Mershon all night, White delivered the tying basket on a 3 from the right wing, tying the game for the first time with a minute left. From there, the Gamecock defense harassed the Dragons into a turnover and a tough shot from Mershon at the end of regulation.
In overtime, the two teams both teams struggled to find the basket as the minutes piled up for the starters on both sides. Bruner hit the lone basket of the extra period, scooping it up from the lane for a 57-55 lead with 3:29 to play. Welch hit a free throw, and the defense did its job in the final three minutes. Senior guard Ieasia Walker locked Mershon down, not allowing her to get a good look at the basket for the remainder of the game. Inside of 10 seconds to play, Drexel's Rachel Pearson took a 3 that was blocked by White with the rebound going to Bruner to end the threat.
The Gamecocks allowed a team to shoot over 40 percent for the first time this season, but still limited Drexel to 55 points in 45 minutes of action. Bruner posted all 12 of her points and all eight of her rebounds in the second half to help the Gamecocks overcome the slow start. She also picked up four steals, blocked a pair of shots and handed out two assists. White was solid defensively, swatting away four shots to go with her two steals in just under 40 minutes on the court.
South Carolina travels to Seton Hall for a 2 p.m. matchup on Sun., Dec. 2, before taking a week off for exams. The Gamecocks will be back at Colonial Life Arena on Sun., Dec. 9, to take on Furman.