COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Mikiah Herbert Harrigan didn’t ever really want to leave South Carolina, no matter what she thought after last season.
Herbert Harrigan was torn between wondering what her role would be among the Gamecocks’ highly regarded incoming freshman class and her love of the program.
“I knew in my heart I wanted to be here,” Herbert Harrigan said Sunday.
So, after a heart-to-heart with coach Dawn Staley, Herbert Harrigan changed her mind — a decision that has turned into everything she and No. 1 South Carolina could’ve hoped for.
Herbert Harrigan had 20 points as the Gamecocks won their program-record 23rd straight game and completed a perfect 16-0 run through the Southeastern Conference regular season with a 60-52 victory over No. 12 Texas A&M.
Herbert Harrigan, the 6-foot-2 senior who was a reserve on the 2017 national champions, simply needed reassurance from Staley about her place in the program. She’s done the rest, rising to the team’s leading scorer and becoming a touchstone during difficult runs.
That happened quickly against the Aggies (22-6, 10-6 SEC) as she scored the team’s first 13 points while her teammates were struggling to find their shots.
“I knew when she scored the first nine we’d just get it to her,” Staley said.
The Gamecocks (29-1, 16-0 SEC) were only ahead 34-28 early in the third quarter before going on a 14-3 surge to take control for good.
South Carolina finished off the fourth 16-0 SEC season in league history and became the first team to do it twice since the conference supersized the schedule before the 2009-10 season.
The victory also broke the school mark for consecutive wins when the 2014-15 Gamecocks started 22-0 to reach No. 1. Like that group that reached the Final Four, this South Carolina roster has aspirations far beyond regular-season honors.
The Gamecocks head to the SEC Tournament next week as the top-seed and runaway favorite to win it for the fifth time in seven seasons.
Herbert Harrigan is a big reason for those expectations. She had tears in her eyes during her Senior Day tribute, then channeled that emotion into her game.
Herbert Harrigan had her team’s first 13 points and reached 17 by the break. She also had eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
When Herbert Harrigan came out with 1:15 to go, she got a standing ovation from the crowd.
“Kiki’s growth this year has come full circle,” Staley said.
The Gamecocks appeared to take control earlier with 18-5 run that spanned the first and second quarters to open a 25-12 lead.
But Carter, the SEC’s second-leading scorer, had four straight baskets to blunt South Carolina’s surge and trail 31-22 at the half.
The Gamecocks 31 points in the half tied a season low, matching what they scored the first two quarters in their only loss, a 71-57 defeat to then No. 17 Indiana on Thanksgiving Day.
Herbert Harrigan, who had planned to transfer after last season before changing her mind, and the Gamecocks dug in after the break to keep their success going.
Kayla Wells led Texas A&M with 15 points. Carter, who did not start for the Aggies, finished with 12 points. However, both struggled against the Gamecocks, combining to shoot just 10 of 34 overall.
“We know we can shoot better than that, we’ve proven that night after night,” Texas A&M guard Shambria Washington said.
THE BIG PICTURE
Texas A&M: The Aggies lost consecutive SEC games for the third time this season and head into conference tournament play with questions to solve to see how deep they’ll go into March. They shot less than 40 percent for the fourth time in their past five games.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks appear ready for the challenges ahead. Herbert Harrigan and Boston once more controlled things down low while Harris, the team’s senior starting point guard, takes charge of the offensive flow and defensive pace.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said not starting Chennedy Carter for just the second time in 22 games this season was simply about “shuffling the deck” and keep his roster out of foul trouble.
Blair called South Carolina freshman Aliyah Boston the “Moses Malone” of the women’s college game. When told that, Staley smiled and said. “She certainly sweats like him,” Boston had 13 points and 12 rebounds for her 11th double-double this season.
Texas A&M will wait and see if it plays Thursday or Friday at the SEC Tournament.
South Carolina will open SEC Tourament play in Friday’s quarterfinals.