COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Zia Cooke had 18 points, Aliyah Boston had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 1 South Carolina bounced back from its first loss of the season with an 80-68 victory over Mississippi State on Sunday night.
The Bulldogs (9-4, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) were a late fill in when Mississippi pulled out due to COVID-19 issues. Mississippi State was supposed to play at Kentucky on Monday, a game that also was postponed due to the virus.
Whoever stepped on the court was likely to get a strong, focused showing from South Carolina (13-1, 1-1), who were stunned in overtime, 70-69, at Missouri this past Thursday and will certainly give up the top spot its held since the preseason.
The Gamecocks broke open a tight game midway through the second quarter, closing the half with an 18-8 burst to take control and a double-digit lead into the locker room.
South Carolina kept up the pace in the third quarter as Cooke, a double-figures scorer who has only reached that mark in two of her previous six games, had four foul shots and a 3-pointer.
When Boston stroked a 3-pointer with 4:59 left in the period, South Carolina was up 59-39 and cruising to its fourth straight win over the Bulldogs.
South Carolina looked like it had found its rhythm late in the opening quarter with 13 straight points to lead 23-12. But the Bulldogs rallied, making seven straight shots to tie things at 27-all on JerKaila Jordan’s layup with 5:36 before halftime.
Destiny Littleton answered with a tie-breaking 3-pointer and added another long-range basket as the Gamecocks led 45-35 at the break.
Boston had her eighth double-double this season and 38th of her career.
Point guard Destanni Henderson, at 5-foot-7, had a career-high 14 rebounds, along with eight assists, for the Gamecocks.
Jordan led Mississippi State with 16 points.
South Carolina was without Laeticia Amihere, typically the team’s first player off the bench, who was not at the arena due to health and safety protocols.