It was a hard-fought effort on the road, but ultimately a doomed venture for the South Carolina Gamecocks against Mississippi State on Wednesday night, as USC fell 79-76 in a contest that held SEC standings — and potentially NCAA Tournament — implications.
The Gamecocks made an improbable run to cut an 8-point lead to a 1-point deficit in just 17 seconds, but the Bulldogs canned a couple free throws for some breathing room and South Carolina couldn’t get a shot off at the buzzer to force overtime.
Senior big man Maik Kotsar, who has been on a mission to put this team on his back lately, finished with a game-high 24 points, highlighted by seven straight buckets to start the game. Jermaine Couisnard added 17 points for the Gamecocks and A.J. Lawson had 12 to round out the double-digit scoring. Jair Bolden contributed six points in what was a quiet night for the USC bench, although he scored the crucial late basket that pulled South Carolina within a point.
The Gamecocks shot 48% from the field, but posted a frigid 24% performance from 3, committed 15 turnovers, and were out-rebounded 32-29.
Coming into the contest, South Carolina had a game up on Mississippi State in the SEC standings, but both teams now share fifth place with an 8-5 mark in conference play. After a rough start against out-of-conference competition put them in a hole, the Gamecocks have to continue to play their way into the NCAA Tournament bubble conversation, which will likely require them winning four of their five remaining games, along with at least one game in the SEC Tournament. No pressure!
South Carolina (16-10, 8-5) hosts LSU (18-8, 9-4) on Saturday at 6 p.m.