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Charleston Eliminates Upstate From WNIT

One of the greatest feelings in sports – scratch that – life, is having a second chance. The USC Upstate Women’s basketball team was given just that after they thought their historic season had come to a close in their first-ever Big South Conference tournament semifinal appearance nearly 2 weeks ago.

 

Back on March 14th, news broke that USC Upstate received an automatic bid to one of the premier non-NCAA postseason tournaments – the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT), and that they would not only have their season extended, but would also get one more chance to play in front of their home crowd at the G.B. Hodge Center as the campus host for the first round matchup.

 

That matchup would be a tough one, as the Spartans drew the College of Charleston Cougars – a team that, much like Upstate, was also having a historic year. Charleston won 13 games in the Colonial Athletic Association this season, which set a new program record, before bowing out to Towson in the quarterfinals of the CAA tournament. They averaged 75 and a half points per game and shot 40 percent from the field as a team.

 

“The College” was not only an offensively sound team that featured four players averaging in double figure points per game, but also a very aggressive defensive unit. They averaged 41.2 rebounds per contest coming in, forcing just over 20 turnovers a game. That aggressive defense was a key factor on display in Thursday night’s contest against USC Upstate with lots of traps, presses, and physical contact.

 

Strong Charleston defensive effort aside, the Spartans got off to the type of start you might expect from a team that not only thought there was finality to their season, but also one that has not had much time to practice or prepare in the nearly 2 weeks since they last played. Upstate was 1 for their first 6 from the field in the 5:11 leading to the 1st quarter media timeout. Their lone point prior to Jeni Levine’s pullup jumper breaking the lid off the hoop came on a Rebekah Gordon free throw at the 6:59 mark. On the other hand, Charleston opened the game 5 for 11 from the deck, taking an 11-3 lead to the media break.

 

After going down 14-3 out of the break, the Spartans finally started to get the Cougar defense to falter, as they charged back to take the lead, sparked by the first of a team-leading 5 three pointers for a team-leading 15 points on the night from senior Guard Dakota Reeves. That triple sparked an 11-0 run, highlighted by another Reeves three and a wide open layup from Isabell West that ended the 1st quarter with Upstate leading 15-14.

 

The Spartans started the second quarter by extending their scoring run to 15-5 to take their largest lead of the night at 4. Unfortunately for Upstate, that lead did not take long to dissipate. The 2 sides devolved into a seesaw affair for the remainder of the first half. After trading baskets to push the margin back to 4, a quick 5-0 burst for the Cougars capped by a jumper from Alexis Andrews put them in front 23-22 at the 5:02 mark of the frame.

 

From there, the half devolved into an entertaining back and forth with Upstate managing to briefly reclaim the advantage on a Gracie Barnes jumper at the 3:41 mark. Aside from a brief tie a few moments later, Charleston never really looked back, going on a 7-1 run that was snapped by a Dakota Reeves triple from the right wing as the clock expired to make it 37-32 at the break.

 

Upstate’s shooting woes spilled over into the 3rd quarter, opening the 2nd stanza 1 for 10 from the field with a 2 minute scoreless skid. Charleston had an opportunity to break the game wide open in that span, but also started cold, only able to turn that into a 5-0 spurt, which upped the ante to 9 points. The Spartans’ drought extended to 4 minutes and 11 seconds before Trinity Johnson hit a pair of free throws to get off the schneid. But, in that extended scoreless stint, the Cougars hit back to back threes to push their lead to 13. That margin was more than enough to seal the deal as Upstate could pull no closer than 7 the rest of the way. In the end, the Cougs claimed a resounding 78-60 victory.

 

“We were elated to have another opportunity to play at home. The kids gave their all. There was nothing left in the tank. It has been a really long season and they have grown tremendously from where we started to where we are today. They matured and learned how to handle good situations and bad situations as poised individuals. I’m proud of the people they are, not just the basketball players”, said Head Coach Jason Williams of the chance his team had to continue to write USC Upstate history.

 

Historic is a word that has been thrown around a lot in regards to this season, but it rings true nonetheless. Finishing the 2023-2024 campaign .500 at 16-16 may not be the storybook ending many would have hoped for, but given where they are, it is hard to deny the progress. Not only did the program reach new heights with winning their quarterfinal match in the Big South tournament, they also made their first postseason appearance since going to the WBI in 2019. There is plenty for this program to be excited for moving forward.

 

“To be able to play this late in March shows the trajectory of this program is headed in the right direction. We are getting better and this program will be playing games again late in March in the other tournament {NCAA}”, said Williams.

 

It is also evident that USC Upstate stands behind the program going forward, which is something Williams does not take for granted.

 

“To be able to play games in late March is a testament to (Chancellor) Dr. Harris and Matt (AD Matthew Martin) and our administration. I am absolutely grateful for the people that support us and the chance to do this.”

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