COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) - Texas A&M coach Gary Blair was exhausted and happy. The Aggies were on top of the Southeastern Conference once again.
Karla Gilbert scored Texas A&M’s first two baskets of overtime in heavy traffic in the paint, and Jordan Jones had a pivotal steal and layup to help the 25th-ranked Aggies to a 67-65 victory over No. 8 South Carolina on Thursday night.
“I’m worn out,” Blair said. “Absolutely worn out. That was a great college basketball game.”
A&M (14-4, 4-0) had a big lead early on, but South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell banked in a 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation, tying it at 56.
Four Aggies scored in double figures, with Courtney Walker’s 18 points leading the way. Jones had four steals, including the big play that helped A&M take a 63-58 lead in overtime.
“Jordan Jones is playing as good as any point guard in the league right now,” Blair said.
Aleighsa Welch had 20 points for South Carolina (16-2, 4-1), and Mitchell scored 19 in the Gamecocks’ first loss since a 74-66 setback against North Carolina on Dec. 18.
A&M grabbed sole possession of first place in the conference with the win.
“Sometimes when you dig yourselves a hole like we did, your shots come up short in the end,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said.
A&M led 34-17 at halftime and appeared en route to a surprisingly easy victory. But the Gamecocks roared back, outscoring the Aggies 39-22 in the second half.
South Carolina outrebounded A&M 53-41 and the Gamecocks’ reserves outscored their A&M counterparts 15-0. But it wasn’t enough to stop the Aggies from picking up another big SEC win.
Texas A&M has won seven in a row to climb back into the Top 25. It had won its two previous SEC games on the road at LSU and Georgia.
“We’re 4-0 in the SEC and I’m not sure how good we are,” Blair said. “But we play hard - and I know we have good guards.”
A&M also can get it done inside, outscoring the Gamecocks 38-24 in points in the paint.
“Give Karla Gilbert credit,” Blair said. “She gave us some big baskets and big rebounds.”
The Gamecocks, who had won seven in a row, shot nearly as well from the 3-point line (5 of 11 for 45.5 percent) as they did at the free-throw line (10 of 21 for 47.6 percent).
“We wanted to erase that 17-point halftime deficit and get ourselves back in the game,” Staley said. “The players believed it was going to happen, and it happened. But we didn’t make baskets when we needed to.”
Neither team scored in the first 2:21 of overtime. Gilbert then grabbed an offensive rebound and scored her first of two consecutive baskets in the extra minutes.
The Aggies led 50-46 in regulation when South Carolina’s Asia Dozer calmly sank a 3-pointer from the top of the key. A&M’s Courtney Williams quickly countered by driving the lane and banking a shot off the glass to again extend the Aggies’ lead to three with 3:28 left.
Williams made two foul shots to help Texas A&M to what seemed to be an insurmountable 56-51 lead with 26 seconds remaining. But Mitchell later banked in her off-balance shot from the left side, and fans were treated to another five minutes of a spirited game.
“We were just worried about stopping South Carolina, and for us to get out in transition and finish our plays like we needed to,” Gilbert said of the Aggies’ attitude entering overtime. “We knew we just needed to keep busting our butts and going hard.”
The Aggies have won all three of their meetings against the Gamecocks after joining the SEC in the summer of 2012, including in Columbia, S.C., last season and also in the SEC tournament quarterfinals.
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