Cooke scored 20 points, including the go-ahead layup with 5:13 to play, and the top-ranked Gamecocks outlasted No. 8 Maryland 66-59 on Sunday in the Jimmy V Classic for their fourth victory over a top-10 opponent this season.
Cooke had tied the game moments earlier at 55-all with two foul shots, then took the ball away from Maryland point guard Ashley Owusu and sped down court for the basket that put South Carolina ahead for good.
“In game like this, I don’t think at all, I just know what to do,” said Cooke, a junior. “I think it comes with maturity. Oh my gosh, that play where I got the steal, there was a rush than went through me.”
It sparked the rest of her team to keep pushing to close out the game. Maryland got within 61-59 on Angel Reese’s three-point play with 2:04 left, but South Carolina held the Terrapins (9-3) scoreless the rest of the way to improve to 10-0 for the first time in six seasons.
“I was telling myself, ‘I got to get one, I got to get one,’ because we have to get the lead up,” Cooke said.
Aliyah Boston added 16 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocked shots for the Gamecocks.
Maryland overcame a 53-47 deficit in the fourth quarter with eight straight points closed by Faith Masonius’ basket.
Reese had 20 points to lead the Terrapins, who were seeking their first win over a No. 1 team since topping North Carolina in 2006.
Cooke and Boston, juniors who were part of South Carolina’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class three seasons ago, both went over the 1,000-point mark in their careers.
Brea Beal had 10 rebounds and Laeticia Amihere had eight as South Carolina outrebounded the Terrapins 61-34. The Gamecocks also posted 15 blocks to Maryland’s four.
“The moral of the story was rebounding,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said.
Maryland entered ninth in the country in points scored while the Gamecocks are 12th nationally in scoring defense. It was defense front-and-center early on as both teams struggled to find some offensive rhythm.
The teams were a combined 10-of-34 shooting the first 10 minutes. The Terrapins packed the middle to limit Boston’s movement near the basket, while South Carolina’s height advantage had it blocking seven shots in the opening period.
South Carolina took its first lead on LeLe Grissett’s bucket. After Katie Benzan’s 3-pointer put Maryland back in front, Cooke hit a long-range basket to start a 10-2 run.
Cooke added a pair of foul shots and a jumper in the final minute as South Carolina led 34-30 at the half.
THE BIG PICTURE
Maryland: The Terrapins could not get past South Carolina’s height and length. Owusu, their point guard who was leading the team at 17.9 points a game, managed 11 on 3-of-17 shooting. Maryland probably won’t face many challenges like South Carolina until the NCAA Tournament.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks prevailed in a tight game, something that’s been unusual this season. They beat top-10 opponents North Carolina State, Oregon and UConn by an average of 14 points.
South Carolina’s 6-foot-2 senior, Grissett, played for the first time since injuring her lower right leg in the Southeastern Conference tournament title game last March. Grissett got a loud cheer from the crowd and quickly had two points and four rebounds. She finished with five points and four boards. “Honestly, it felt good,” Grissett said.
Brea Beal, a junior in the same class with Cooke and Boston, spent much of the game matched up with Owusu and did a great job, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said, frustrating Maryland’s talented point guard with her sticky defense. “It’s what she does,” Staley said of Beal. “She’s a specialist.”
Maryland faces Coppin State on Dec. 21.
South Carolina plays at No. 19 Duke on Wednesday night.
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