Dec. 18, 2004
Murfreesboro, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee withstood South Carolina's best rally of the year en route to claiming a 69-56 win at the Murphy Center in Mufreesboro, Tenn., Saturday.
With the win, Middle Tennessee claimed its second win in its last three games and improved to 5-4. South Carolina slipped to 2-6 on the year with the loss and dropped its ninth consecutive game played away from the Colonial Center.
Trailing, 37-24 at halftime, South Carolina rallied coming out of the locker room and completely erased the deficit when Larissa Kulcsar scored with 13:25 remaining in the game to tie the score at 41-41. Kulcsar, who finished with 14 points, was invaluable to the Gamecocks Saturday with her hustle and scrappy style of play.
MTSU countered with a run of its own that opened the lead back up to 55-46 with 6:29 remaining. Missed easy looks and untimely turnovers down the stretch dashed any hopes South Carolina had of making a final push to seize the lead and come out with the win.
Middle Tennessee victimized the Gamecocks with execution in their halfcourt offense, generating easy look after easy look stemming from backdoor cuts.
The game snapped USC's four-game winning streak against teams from the Sun Belt Conference and was Middle Tennessee's second win over a BCS conference school this year. The Lady Raiders claimed a 77-74 win over Wisconsin earlier in the season.
Saturday's game was a clash of a well-rested team (Middle Tennessee had eight days off in between their last game and Saturday) against a team fighting through a cluttered portion of the schedule (South Carolina was playing its third game in five days).
The Lady Raiders looked like the fresher team from the beginning, as they got out to a 21-8 lead to start the game, spurred mainly by a series of easy looks underneath by forward Krystle Horton. Horton scored nine points before the 10-minute mark of the first half and finished with a game-high 18 points.
Middle Tennessee was the more aggressive team in all facets of the first 20 minutes. Nowhere was that more evident than at the free throw line, as the Lady Raiders got to the charity stripe 14 times in the first half, with the Gamecocks countering with only five free throw attempts of their own. That figure evened out in the second half, as did the game.
Also contributing to the Gamecocks' slow start, as USC committed an overwhelming 16 turnovers in the first half that resulted in 16 MTSU points. The Gamecocks finished with 24 turnovers.
This year's preseason Sun Belt East Division favorite, Middle Tennessee backed up the hype Saturday. Middle Tennessee upset North Carolina in last year's NCAA Tournament and finished the 2003-04 season with a 24-8 record and a Sun Belt championship.
The Gamecocks return to action when they play their fourth game in seven days at 7 p.m. Monday when they host Birmingham Southern at the Colonial Center. The game will be broadcast live on AM 1320 WISW in Columbia and worldwide via the internet at www.uscsports.com. Monday's game will be Camper Night, with all fans who wear USC women's basketball camp t-shirts being admitted for two dollars.
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