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SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Thanks to a 19-3 run late in the second half, the USC Upstate women's basketball team (4-5) edged UNC Asheville (1-7) 54-52 Monday night inside the Hodge Center.
Down 39-27 with 11:38 left to play, a jumper from Upstate senior Lauren McRoberts (Carmel, Ind.) cut the deficit to 10 and spurred on a 14-3 run by the Spartans. Back-to-back buckets by sophomore Shelby Hicks (Greeneville, Tenn.) and a layup by senior Tyra Smith (Lawrenceville, Ga.) pulled Upstate within four points with just over nine minutes to go.
UNC Asheville responded with a made layup by Rachel McGirt to extend the Bulldog lead to six. However just 10 seconds later, Upstate senior Hannah Ohl (Danville, Ill.) cut the deficit in half with a made three-ball off of a pass from Smith. With just under eight minutes on the clock, senior Tee'Ara Copney (Asheville, N.C.) picked a Bulldog pocket, resulting in a fast-break lay-in for Copney and pulling the Spartans within one.
A made free throw from Gentry Manley gave Asheville a 42-20 advantage with seven minutes to go. Manley then made an early exit, picking up her fifth foul of the contest with 6:47 to play and sending Copney to the line to shoot two. Copney made the pair, knotting things up at 42-42. With the momentum in Upstate's favor, two key defensive stops by the Spartans resulted in back-to-back breakaway layups for Copney, putting Upstate ahead 46-42.
With just 3:19 left to the play, a pair of free throws from Shonese Jones cut the Bulldog deficit to 46-44. The Spartans responded with layups from Copney and freshman Brittany Clency (Greensboro, N.C.), giving Upstate its largest lead of the night at 50-44. Hungry for a victory, Asheville wouldn't give up and pulled within two with one minute to go. Smith knocked down two at the charity stripe, putting the Spartans up 52-48. Jones answered back for UNCA with a quick bucket to put the score at 50-52.
Asheville's Kelli Riles collected a rebound off of a Spartan miscue and converted that into a made layup by Jones, tying the contest up at 52-52 with 13 seconds to play. With a chance to win the ballgame for Upstate, Smith drove into the lane and drew the foul, sending her to line. The 77.8 percent free throw shooter knocked down the pair, putting the Spartans up two points with five ticks left. Jones brought the ball up the court for Asheville, but couldn't get a good look and the three-pointer at the buzzer didn't fall, giving Upstate the 54-52 come-from-behind victory.
"Down the stretch, Tyra hit four-straight free throws for us," said Upstate head coach Tammy George. "We focus on that because that wins ballgames. When you're struggling offensively, you've got to get layups or get to the free throw line and I think Tyra did a good job of that. Down the stretch we made our free throws in the second half, whereas in the first half we struggled a little bit with that."
This marked Upstate's second-straight win and the only consecutive win for the team this season. Despite pulling out the win, the Spartans struggled from the floor all night, shooting 21.4 percent in the first half and 41.4 percent in the second for an overall 31.6 percent. Upstate also stumbled from long distance, going 1-for-12 from behind the arc for 8.3 percent. The Bulldogs shot 32.0 percent from the floor and 35.0 percent from three-point range.
"It feels good to get a win," George said. "We'll take any win right now. We struggled a little bit coming out of the gate tonight. We missed a lot of easy ones, missed some layups, missed some free throws, but we were able to get going a little bit in the second half off of our defense."
On the night, Upstate was led by Copney with a team-high of 12 points and Hicks with a double-double of 11 points and a team-best 10 rebounds. This marks the first double-dip for Hicks this season and the second of her career. The 11 points is a season-high for the sophomore as is the 10 boards. Hicks played big on the defensive end for Upstate, swatting a game-high three blocks, tying her career-high.
"Shelby is the unsung hero," George said. "She is getting better and better with each game, getting confidence with each game. She just steps up and plays big for us. She does all of the little things; she'll screen, she'll rebound. It was good to see her score a little bit tonight, but she's been our unsung hero and just played some big minutes for us."
Ten of Copney's 12 points came in the second frame for Upstate. She also grabbed a game-high eight steals, tying her career-best. Smith rounded out the double-figures for the Spartans, putting up a season-high 11 points, while dishing out a game-best four assists.
The Bulldogs were led by Jones, recording a game-high 23 points, going 5-for-6 from the charity stripe. Riles and Manley helped Asheville, snagging 15 and 12 boards, respectively. Riles pulled down 14 defensive rebounds on the night to go along with five points, while Manley added seven points.
Asheville won the battle of the boards, outrebounding Upstate 42-38. The Spartans made up for that, swiping 14 steals, compared to UNCA's four. The Bulldogs committed 20 turnovers, while Upstate only turned the ball over 10 times, a new season low.
The Spartans return to action Sunday, Dec. 16, hosting High Point for a 3 p.m. nonconference contest in the Hodge Center. Follow Upstate women's basketball this season on your mobile device, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.