The South Carolina Gamecocks finally got themselves into a jam they couldn’t escape, as the Mississippi State Bulldogs flipped the script and rallied to hand USC a 76-61 loss in Starkville, Miss., on Saturday.
It was Opposite Day for South Carolina from the tip, as the Gamecocks raced out to a 17-4 lead and the Bulldogs mustered just one made field goal in the game’s first 11 minutes. USC started to lose its grip toward the end of the half, but still entered the locker room with a 36-29 lead.
Mississippi State came out firing, however, and started the second period making up for lost time. The Bulldogs went 8 of 10 from the field and 4 of 5 from 3-point range to quickly gain the upper hand, and the Gamecocks responded with an almost 7-minute scoring drought. A.J. Lawson’s layup before the under-8 timeout cut the deficit to six, 60-54, but that was as close as the Gamecocks could get: State padded its lead and ultimately came away with a 15-point win after trailing by 13. It’s a narrative USC is very familiar with, but unfortunately not on the losing side.
Lawson led South Carolina with 18 points, followed by Maik Kotsar’s 13 and Felipe Haase’s nine. While the Gamecocks again had a respectable performance from 3 (9 of 21 for 42 percent), they were miserable at the free-throw line, going 8 of 16 while State made 18 of 20. Despite the strong start to the game, it was also one of USC’s worst defensive showings in a while, as MSU ultimately shot 50 percent from the field.
Perhaps the most disappointing part about this loss, however, is that it all but ends any outside chance the Gamecocks had at the NCAA Tournament. While USC’s conference record is still respectable, MSU was the Gamecocks’ last shot at anything resembling a “statement” win in the regular season, and they simply have no margin of error to work with after faceplanting so spectacularly in the out-of-conference schedule.
South Carolina (14-13, 9-5 SEC), which saw a modest two-game winning streak end, returns home to play Alabama on Tuesday.