COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley told All-American Aliyah Boston earlier this month that she needed to become more dominant after a sluggish start to the season.
Boston scored a career-high 29 points on 13-of-13 shooting and powered the top-ranked Gamecocks to a 79-42 victory over North Carolina A&T on Monday night.
The 6-foot-5 junior had a total of 28 points her first three games, and was barely shooting over 50%. Staley talked with her before South Carolina’s trip to the Battle4Atlantis, saying Boston needed to assert herself more.
“And I think after that game, I realized that I just have to do what I have to do,” Boston said.
Her dominant stretch began with 23 points in a tournament-opening win over Buffalo. Boston continued with 16 points to put away then-ninth-ranked Oregon and was unstoppable with 22 points and 15 rebounds in a 73-57 win over No. 2 UConn to take the title.
The Gamecocks improved to 8-0 for the first time since the 2015-16 season. And, they did it through Boston, who had 18 of South Carolina’s 27 straight points over a 10-minute stretch of the second and third quarters to put away the winless Aggies (0-6).
Boston added 14 rebounds, one off her season high, and three blocked shots during her 20 minutes of action. She also made both her foul shots, each finishing off a three-point play.
Staley said Boston has risen to the challenge the past few games by working harder and bringing that attitude to the court.
“When you approach the game like that, you set yourself up for a perfect night,” Staley said.
South Carolina was a unanimous No. 1 pick in the latest rankings released earlier Monday. But, except for Boston, the Gamecocks didn’t look the part early on against the Aggies.
North Carolina A&T drew within 18-15 on Chanin Scott’s jumper with 8:11 left before half. That’s when Boston led a 22-0 surge to the break, scoring 11 points including her fourth 3-pointer.
When Laeticia Amihere drove the basket for a layup with 1.4 seconds left, South Carolina was up 40-15.
Boston continued her dominant play after the break, scoring South Carolina’s first nine points of the third quarter. Her inside jumper with 6:50 left in the period broke her previous high of 28, set against Florida last New Year’s Eve.
Boston’s 13 field goals were also a career best, topping the 11 she made in that Florida win last season.
Boston came out soon after to loud cheers and spent the rest of the game pulling for her top-ranked teammates.
“Aliyah’s, obviously, extremely talented, but it’s really hard to game plan for them,” Aggies coach Tarrell Robinson said. “She benefits off that because she has such a high motor.”
Amihere finished with nine points and Zia Cooke 8 for South Carolina.
North Carolina A&T is off to its worst start in Robinson’s 10 seasons. Scott had seven points to lead the Aggies, who shot 22% (14 of 63) from the field.
THE BIG PICTURE
North Carolina A&T: The Aggies are playing their first season in the Big South Conference after winning three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournaments in Robinson’s first nine seasons. It’s likely they won’t face too many teams in their new league like South Carolina.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks, already with top-10 wins over North Carolina State, Oregon and UConn, have marked themselves as clear favorites for the national title this season. They are deep, talented and smart and will be hard to beat if Boston keeps playing like this.
Starting point guard Destanni Henderson played only 15 minutes and came out with a compression sleeve on her left leg. She was limping after the game. Staley said Henderson, a senior, was getting checked out. Freshman Raven Johnson, expected to spell Henderson this season. is out for the season with a knee injury. Staley said her next option would be the 6-4 Amihere, who the coach has described as fearless.
When Boston left the game for good in the third quarter, she was laughing at her teammates, who had joked with her that she had scored about half South Carolina’s points so far. “I just thought it was kind of funny,” Boston said.
North Carolina A&T: Hosts South Carolina State on Saturday.
South Carolina: Continues its homestand against Kansas State on Friday night.