Bears Steal One Away as Spartans Drop Heartbreaker, 55-54

Bears Steal One Away as Spartans Drop Heartbreaker, 55-54

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Up eight points with less than six minutes left, the USC Upstate women's basketball team (10-16, 6-9 A-Sun) allowed Mercer (18-7, 12-2 A-Sun) to use an 11-0 run to slip past the Spartans 55-54 in Atlantic Sun Conference action as Upstate dropped the heartbreaker in its last home game of the 2012-13 campaign inside the Hodge Center Monday night.  

With 1:52 on the clock, Mercer's Kendra Grant nailed a three-pointer and the Spartans found themselves down (53-50) for the first time since the 12:19 mark in the opening half. Upstate freshman Brittany Starling (Sumter, S.C.) went to work down low, netting a layup to cut the Bear lead to 53-52 with 1:23 to play.

In the following possession, freshman Tweety Hawkins (Madison, Ga.), the shortest person on the floor, came up big for Upstate, blocking a MU layup as Starling collected the defensive board. The Spartans couldn't convert on the offensive end, missing their fourth layup in the final five minutes and third in the last three. Mercer's Sharmesia Smith collected the rebound and was fouled with 43 seconds to play.

Smith missed the front end of the one-and-one as Starling came up with it off the glass for Upstate. Down 53-52 with 26 ticks left, the Spartans were overeager for a bucket and forced a jumper that didn't fall, marking Upstate's seventh missed field goal in the final five minutes of the contest.

Mercer once again collected the rebound and the Spartans sent them to the line. Sharnea Boykin missed the front end of the one-and-one for the Bears, but Teanna Robinson pulled down the offensive board and connected on the put-back, giving MU a 55-52 advantage with 18 seconds on the clock.

Upstate inbounded the ball and called a timeout once Hawkins brought the ball across half court with 11 seconds to go. The Spartans couldn't get a good look behind the arc and settled for a layup from Hawkins with six seconds on the clock. Upstate fouled Mercer's Boykin once the Bears inbounded the ball. Boykin missed both free throws as Starling collected the rebound for Upstate after the second miss. The Spartans called a timeout to set up a play, but with four seconds left Upstate just didn't have enough time to get a good shot off and the Bears claimed the 55-54 win.

Starling led Upstate on the night, recording her fourth double-double of the season with 17 points and 14 boards. She was 7-for-10 from the floor, pushing her league-leading field goal percentage to .540. This marked the rookie's fourth-straight double-digit scoring effort. Starling has scored double figures in six of the last seven outings and eight of the last 10, including a nine point effort against Lipscomb Feb. 4. The center has posted a team-high in either points and/or rebounds for the last 11 contests for the Spartans.

Hawkins turned in her seventh double-figure performance of the season, tallying 13 points for Upstate. The freshman was 5-for-8 from the line. She handed out a team-best five assists to go along with four rebounds and two steals.

Senior Tee'Ara Copney (Asheville, N.C.), sophomore Shelby Hicks (Greeneville, Tenn.) and freshman Brittany Clency (Greensboro, N.C.) also turned in solid performances for the Spartans on the night. Copney recorded eight points and dished out four assists, while Hicks had seven points, four boards and three steals. Clency posted seven points, while swiping two steals and gathering two rebounds.

Mercer was led by Precious Bridges with 20 points, going 7-for-20 from the floor and 6-for-8 from the charity stripe. Grant added 13 points, while Robinson pulled down a game-best and career-high 16 rebounds. Boykin gave out a game-high 13 assists, directing the Bear offense.

MU owned the boards, which proved to be the difference in the game. The Bears outrebounded Upstate 51-35, including 28 off the offensive glass. Mercer then claimed the contest of second chances 22-2. The Spartans committed 13 turnovers, compared to MU's 16. Mercer scored 16 points off of Upstate's miscues, while the Spartans scored 18 points off of the Bears' turnovers.

Upstate shot 45.8 percent from the floor, compared to Mercer's 30.0 percent. The Spartans were 0-1 from behind the arc, while the Bears were 3-for-18 for a 16.7 percent from long distance. Upstate struggled at the line, connecting on 10-of-17 attempts to shoot 58.8 percent. MU was an even 50.0 percent from the freebie line, going 10-for-20.

The Spartans return to action Saturday, Feb. 23, traveling to North Florida for a 2 p.m. tip-off. Follow Upstate women's basketball this season on your mobile device, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.