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Gamecocks handle Belmont 74-52, face Florida State next in NCAA Tournament

A familiar foe is up next.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball team got back on track after its short and disappointing stay in the SEC Tournament, regrouping to cruise past Belmont 74-52 on Friday in the NCAA Tournament’s opening round.

The fourth-seeded Gamecocks got off to a slow and shaky start in Charlotte, closing the first quarter with just a 16-13 advantage against the smaller Bruins. But then South Carolina got back to its defensive roots, and held 13th-seeded Belmont to just three points in the second quarter to take a more solid 29-16 lead into the locker room.

After halftime, it was all South Carolina, as the offense followed the defense’s lead and came alive. The Gamecocks shot 55 percent from the field and 34 percent from 3 as four starters reached double figures. Te’a Cooper led USC with 15 points, while Ty Harris and Alexis Jennings added 12 and Doniyah Cliney was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field with 10.

The Gamecocks bullied the Bruins on the boards, collecting 38 rebounds to Belmont’s 22, and also racked up six steals and six blocks.

Curiously, South Carolina veterans and mainstays Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Bianca Cuevas-Moore served suspensions that have yet to be explained: Herbert Harrigan was held out of the first half, while Cuevas-Moore didn’t play at all. Coach Dawn Staley said both players would be available in the second round, however.

South Carolina (22-9) now has a date with fifth-seeded Florida State (24-8), which knocked off 12-seed Bucknell 70-67 in a bit of a nail-biter for the ‘Noles. The last time the Gamecocks and Seminoles met was in 2017’s Elite 8, when South Carolina advanced 71-64 on its way to a national championship.