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SPARTANBURG, S.C. – With 20-plus points from both Tee'Ara Copney (Asheville, N.C.) and Brittany Starling (Sumter, S.C.), the USC Upstate women's basketball team (8-12, 4-5 A-Sun) picked up its third-straight victory, downing North Florida (9-11, 5-4 A-Sun) 64-52 inside the Hodge Center Monday evening in Atlantic Sun Conference play on ESPN3.
The Spartans shot a season-best 58.1 percent from the floor as they improved to 6-3 against the Ospreys at home. However, North Florida still holds a 12-8 advantage in the all-time series.
Upstate led wire-to-wire, improving to 5-5 when scoring first and 5-5 when winning the tip. Up 10-7 with 12:20 to play in the first frame, a three-pointer from Copney sparked a 10-2 run as the Spartans soared to a 23-9 lead. Upstate continued to play a strong first half and took a 36-20 advantage into the locker room at the break as Copney and Starling each had double-figures in the opening period with 17 and 11 points, respectively. Copney was 6-for-6 from the floor with five buckets coming from three-point range.
Sophomore Shelby Hicks (Greeneville, Tenn.) posted eight points in the first half as all of Upstate's points came from just three players. Seniors Tyra Smith (Lawrenceville, Ga.) and Lauren McRoberts (Carmel, Ind.) helped the Spartan offense along in the opening stanza as Smith handed out six assists, while McRoberts dished out a season-high four helpers.
The Spartans opened the second half with two quick baskets to take their largest lead of the night at 40-20, completing a 12-0 run carried over from the first half. Not to be outdone, the Ospreys strung together a 10-0 run of their own, cutting the deficit in half with 13:52 to play. North Florida continued to work and chipped away at the Upstate lead, pulling within single digits at 46-38 with just over 10 minutes left.
Upstate then rattled off a 10-1 run, putting the score at 56-39 with 6:30 on the clock. In the remaining minutes, the Ospreys managed to trim the 17-point deficit down to 12 as the Spartans claimed the eventual 64-52 victory. This marked Upstate's third-straight win, the most consecutive victories for the team this season.
On the night, a trio of Spartans reached double figures as Copney tallied a game-high 23 points, tying her season-high at Lipscomb Jan. 7. Starling registered her second-straight double-double and third this season, posting a career-best 21 points and grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds. Hicks recorded 10 points, shooting a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor, for her fifth double digit scoring outing this season. Liking the number five tonight, she also snagged five boards for Upstate.
Smith continued to guide the Spartan offense, giving out a season-best and game-high eight assists. She is averaging 7.0 assists a game over the last two contests, improving to 4.0 helpers per game on the season. The point guard also recorded four points on the night to go along with two rebounds and two steals.
Freshman point guard Tweety Hawkins (Madison, Ga.) continued to be a spark off the bench for Upstate. She put up six points and grabbed two boards, while handing out one assist in 18 minutes of action. Freshman Brittany Clency (Greensboro, N.C.) rounded out the scoring for the Spartans, posting four points.
North Florida was led by Ki Conner on the night, tallying 17 points, while swiping a game-high five steals. Chandler Merkerson was second on the team with nine points, while Raneisha Lamar and Fabiola Josil each recorded six points. Lamar pulled down a team-high seven rebounds, while Josil collected six boards.
The Spartans won the battle of the boards 64-52, while North Florida claimed the contest of second chances 7-5. Upstate turned the ball over 18 times, compared to UNF's 22. The Spartans tallied 18 points off of turnovers, while the Ospreys posted 22 points off of Upstate miscues.