COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina volleyball outlasted Miami (3-1) in an instant classic Friday night in the Carolina Volleyball Center. The Gamecocks (3-1) won in five sets, with all but one decided by the minimum of two points, with a slugfest that featured four Carolina hitters in double figures for kills, two with career highs, and 29 blocks combined between the two teams. Lauren McCutcheon guided the team from start to finish, with the junior recording three or more kills in each set on the way to a career-high 21.
"We won on Wednesday (against Clemson) with defense and serving, but we said to beat a team like Miami, you can't rely on that all the time," head coach Tom Mendoza said after the match. "There are nights where your offense is going to have to really carry you and Lauren was a huge part of that. She was just consistently being aggressive and that's exactly what we asked of them. Every swing is not going to be a killer but just go put yourself in a good position."
1st SET: Miami used a big early lead to open the match with a 25-22 win, holding off a late Gamecock rally that saw the home side go from an 18-9 deficit and cut it down to two, 23-21, before Miami closed it out. The Hurricanes used six blocks to slow a Carolina offense that still put away 15 kills.
2nd SET: The Gamecock defense woke up in a big way in set two, recording eight blocks and 20 digs in a 26-24 win to even the match. The offense hurt itself with seven unforced attacking errors to keep the Hurricanes lingering, and a 7-0 run mid-way through the game threatened to crash the Carolina momentum. Miami went up 20-17, but the Gamecocks were able to work it back to 23-all thanks to McCutcheon and Riley Whitesides on offense. The visitors had set point at 24-23, but a kill by McCutcheon extended the set and Campbell Paris and Ellie Ruprich had an emphatic point to end the set with a big block.
3rd SET: The story switched sides in the third, as Carolina enjoyed a lead for most of the set before a late Miami run spoiled it and the Hurricanes went up 2-1 with a 26-24 win of their own. McCutcheon and Oby Anadi put on a stellar show offensively, combining for 11 kills on 19 swings, but unforced errors (four on serve, five on attacks) kept the home side from pulling away. Out of a Miami timeout, Carolina leading 24-22, the Hurricanes took advantage of three Gamecock errors to steal the advantage.
4th SET: After being credited with errors on the final two points of the third, Whitesides came out with resolve in the final two games, starting with a five-kill performance in the fourth to lead the team to a 25-23 win. The two sides traded modest runs back and forth for most of the game, but it would be Miami's miscues late that made the difference. Out of a 20-20 tie, the Hurricanes committed a pair of attack errors and South Carolina used that to pull away, with Whitesides providing the team's final two points off kills.
5th SET: South Carolina rode the momentum to a fast start in the set to 15 that would decide the winner. The Gamecock offense tore up the Miami block that had been so effective on the night, hitting .524 with 13 of the 15 points scored for Carolina coming on kills. Whitesides again would be clutch, finishing alongside freshman Campbell Paris for the lead in kills with four - her final two accounting for the team's clinching points to make it 15-13.
- Along with her 21 kills, McCutcheon also pitched in four total blocks, a service ace and an assist to leave no zeroes in her box score. All that came on top of a career-high 56 serve receptions with just one ace allowed, as Miami targeted her early and often in the match.
- McCutcheon hit .455 for the match, committing just one error over 44 swings - with the lone error coming on a desperation attempt after a defensive scramble.
- Every single player who saw the court for Carolina recorded at least one dig, and every attacker who played finished with at least five kills.
- South Carolina's 74 total kills are the most in a match since Nov. 11, 2007.
- All three setters on the roster played in the match, each surpassing 15 assists.
- With the win, the Gamecocks are now 23-10 in five-set matches under head coach Tom Mendoza.
- Junior libero Morgan Carter also had a career night, with 22 total digs to lead all defenders. That improves on her previous high of 19, done twice.
QUOTABLE: TOM MENDOZA
On the team's tenacity Friday night
"We know Miami is a very good team, well coached, very disciplined. We learned that last year so that's exactly what we were prepping for. Second match in the week, I thought our team handled that that challenge really well, it was five deuce sets, so we put ourselves in position to win every set but the couple times we didn't finish it off we learned from that. We're really proud of our team for coming back and putting themselves in position to win. This this group is still learning how to win together and to beat a team like Miami with a great crowd behind us, I think it's a huge night for this team and hopefully something we can continue to build on."
Capping the weekend will be a 1 p.m. match against Troy on Sunday, which will end the five-game season-opening homestand. The match will air on the SEC Network+. Troy and Miami will play a neutral match in the Carolina Volleyball Center on Saturday at 12:30.