South Carolina Basketball: Gamecocks knock off Tennessee in all-time thriller in SEC Tournament

South Carolina basketball knock off the Tennessee Volunteers in an all-time thriller in the SEC Tournament to advance to the championship game.

South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley
South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
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Dawn Staley was not happy with her South Carolina basketball team after an 11-point win over Texas A&M on Friday in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. The Gamecocks looked for a bounce-back effort against the Tennessee Volunteers as they pursue their 8th SEC Tournament title in 10 seasons.

The game began with the Gamecocks making three shots in the opening 2 minutes (Chloe Kitts, Bree Hall, and Raven Johnson all scored), but then neither team scored over the next 2. The Gamecocks added two more buckets (5 players had scored at this point as MiLaysia Fulwiley and Kamilla Cardoso got shots to fall) before the media timeout, and the scoreboard read 10-0 in favor of USC.

Bree Hall left the timeout with intentions to score, and the junior knocked down a 3-pointer to put her team up 13-0 in the early goings. Rickea Jackson and Jewel Spear sandwiched 3-point makes around a MiLaysia Fulwiley bucket to make the score 15-6.

The 1st period ended with the Gamecocks ahead 19-6, and Dawn Staley's team had a remarkable 20 rebounds and 0 turnovers (after 10 in the 1st quarter on Friday).

The 2nd quarter started much like the 1st as Carolina started 4-6 from the field compared to Tennessee's 1-6. Tessa Johnson built off of her big game on Friday and had 6 early points and 2 assists in her first 7 minutes on the floor.

The lead grew to 35-12 after back-to-back buckets from MiLaysia Fulwiley, but the half ended poorly as 3 turnovers and 3 fouls allowed the Vols to make up some of the deficit. Despite the Gamecocks scoring fewer than 20 points in each of the first two quarters and a UT 11-1 run to end the half, South Carolina carried a 13-point lead into halftime.

After halftime, Chloe Kitts and Rickea Jackson traded buckets to open the scoring, but then the shots stopped falling. Neither team scored over the next two minutes until Bree Hall went 1-2 from the charity stripe. The Hall make seemingly took the lid off the basket as Rickea Jackson knocked down a 3-point jumper on the other end.

The Vols went on a 7-1 run before Raven Johnson quieted the UT bench with a 3-pointer to make the score 42-30. Jackson, though, stayed hot with another midrange jumper and then an assist on a Sara Puckett. The total run from the end of the 1st half was 23-7 in favor of Tennessee as the score all of a sudden stood 42-35.

Kamilla Cardoso and Chloe Kitts stopped the bleeding with 4 points, and then they rewarded a flop from Jewel Spear with 3 free throws. After a couple more Carolina scores, a late whistle against Ashlyn Watkins gave the forward her 3rd foul. Tamari Key missed both free throws, however, and the Gamecocks pushed their lead to 52-38 after Key fouled Tessa Johnson on the next trip down the floor.

Jewel Spear scored, and then Tess Darby tickled the twine with a 3-pointer as her team was within single digits again. The Vols' 4th-straight make brought the score 56-48 before a Chloe Kitts circus shot fell as the final points of the period...or it would have been, except MiLaysia Fulwiley made two free throws after a comically-long replay review of a foul before the buzzer.

A 1-2 trip to the free throw line for Rickea Jackson and a Jasmine Powell jumper made the game 60-51. Then, another flop from Sara Puckett netted Tennessee three more free throws to decrease the deficit on the scoreboard to just 6 points. Bigs Kamilla Cardoso and Tamari Key exchanged paint baskets, but after Te-Hina Paopao turned the ball over, Jasmine Powell made a 3-pointer to make the score 62-59.

Paopao got the 3 points back with a contested make from the perimeter, but Jewel Spear and Rickea Jackson scored back-to-back possessions to get within 2 points for the first time since the score was 2-0 in favor of South Carolina basketball. Right after the final media timeout, a Tamari Key layup tied the score at 65-65.

Two Raven Johnson free throws regained the lead for South Carolina, but two Jewel Spear freebies tied the score again. Tessa Johnson, very calm for a freshman, found Kamilla Cardoso in the lane for a bucket, but a ticky-tack foul against Johnson gave Spear two more foul shots. With 2:26 on the clock, the game was still tied.

Ashlyn Watkins pulled down a huge offensive rebound, and tipped the ball back out to the perimeter; after resetting the offense, Raven Johnson's free throw line jumper put her squad ahead once again. Rickea Jackson would not be denied, however, as the score was quickly tied at 71.

After a Kamilla Cardoso block, Rickea Jackson gathered the loose ball and scored, giving Tennessee their first lead of the game with under 1 minute left in the game.

Carolina had an opportunity, but Raven Johnson's 3-point attempt failed. Jewel Spear missed both free throws on the ensuing foul, and the Gamecocks were gifted one final chance. With 1 second remaining, in the most surprising manner possible, the ball was inbounded to Kamilla Cardoso at the top of the key. The Brazilian post player knocked down her first-ever 3-pointer to win the game 74-73 and advance to the SEC Tournament final.

533. Final. 73. 534. South Carolina Basketball vs. Tennessee Volunteers. 74