The fourth quarter of South Carolina’s season opener against Alabama State on Tuesday night was just a formality, but the Gamecocks who saw the floor during the 10-minute stretch made lifelong memories.
For Aliyah Boston, there was her block at the 6:25 mark to secure an achievement no other freshman in program history had accomplished. For hometown hero Olivia Thompson, it was seven points in a three-minute span and 10 points total. For in-state product Elysa Wesolek, it was seven points in six minutes, including a fancy turnaround, fallaway jumper.
As the minutes ticked by and the records fell, the decibel levels at Colonial Life Arena increased.
The seventh triple-double in program history and the first by a freshman. The most blocks in a game by a freshman and a tie for the most blocks in a game by one player overall. Most team blocks in a single game in program history.
Most points ever in a season opener.
Tuesday night was simply a party at Colonial Life Arena.
Boston, who made her collegiate debut, led the way with 12 points, 12 rebounds (seven offensive) and 10 blocks for the No. 8 Gamecocks (1-0) in the team’s 103-43 rout of the Hornets (0-1). She also had three steals.
Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Zia Cooke led the team in points, with 13 each, while Ty Harris added 11. Thompson and LeLe Grissett each had 10 points.
“This is the makeup of this team, how they operated all game long,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. “They are genuinely happy for each other. I can’t wait until we’re able to continue this kind of championship behavior. Because that’s exactly what it is.”
Boston swatted her 10th block midway through the fourth quarter and checked out moments later to a rousing ovation.
“My teammates, they were able to get me the ball and I was able to produce for them,” the center said. “And then everything else just fell into place.
“… I had no idea, and then coach was like, ‘You’re two blocks away.’ And then that happened.”
“A triple-double is a triple-double, no matter when it occurs,” Staley said after the game. “… I thought she was pretty active out there, blocking shots and getting rebounds. A lot of them were her own.
“But she’s got a promising future. This is just the tip of the iceberg for her.”
Thompson, a product of Columbia’s Lexington High School, checked in moments later and kept the spirits alive. The freshman — who admitted after the game she was “very nervous” before entering the game — sank a midrange jumper, banked in a layup and swished a left wing 3.
“I hit the first shot and I was like, ‘OK, this is looking good.’ And I just tried again and kept making them,” she said. “It was really exciting.”
South Carolina’s bench went bonkers.
Cooke dropped to the floor after the first make and danced after another. Grissett jumped high in the air. Harris shot an imaginary bow and arrow.
“I’m still on cloud nine, to be honest,” Thompson said after the game. “ … It was very surreal. Being from here and having people I know in the crowd and people cheering for me, it’s a really good feeling.”
“Olivia, her and her family, have been Gamecock fans all their lives,” Staley said. “She was living out a dream today. … If she gets her feet under her and she’s not rushing, she’s going to be able to knock down shots and stretch the defense out. I was happy for her that it happened on this night.”
Elysa Wesolek, who averaged 4.3 minutes per game last season, joined in on the fun as well. The sophomore checked in with Thompson at the 6:25 mark and made her presence felt. The Charleston native, whose previous career-high was four points, sank the turnaround jumper at the 2:42 mark and then sank a 3 with 1:55 to go before capping the night with another jumper.
Laeticia Amihere put an exclamation mark on the night with a block in the closing moments.
Boston called the fourth quarter, when the Gamecocks outscored the Hornets 24-10, “so much fun.”
“We pushed the ball, we got good shots up, everybody was hitting, we did great on defense, it was amazing,” she said.
South Carolina put the game out of reach, if it wasn’t already, midway through the third quarter during a strange sequence in which the Gamecocks made three free throws and Alabama State’s starting center Zamoria Clark picked up three fouls.
Clark fouled out with a hack of Boston, but before the Gamecock center stepped to the line Clark was called for a technical foul. Boston made one of two free throws before Clark was called for another foul for continuing to argue. Herbert Harrigan then stepped to the line and made two technical free throws to give the Gamecocks a 62-26 lead.
Moments later the 5-9 Cooke grabbed an offensive rebound, hung in the air for a moment and made a put back. Seconds after that Harris swished a midrange jumper.
Fans were delirious.
While it wasn’t the dominance South Carolina displayed in its exhibition win over Georgia State on Sunday, the Gamecocks led early and were never truly tested. It was a blowout win and exactly what the team wanted and needed to start its season.
While a top-10 matchup with No. 4 Maryland (1-0) looms on Sunday, the Gamecocks will have at least one night to soak in a game for the ages.