The Gamecocks have dominated opponents (to say the least) as of late, winning their last five games by an average of 47.6 points, but they struggled to put the Bulldogs away Sunday afternoon.
Top-ranked South Carolina (16-0, 4-0) won a close one against Mississippi State (12-5, 1-3) by the score of 58-51 to extend its perfect season thus far.
Although USC’s record remained perfect, its play – most notably the offense – did not quite meet that benchmark.
USC’s 58 points scored – 24 points below its scoring average – was the squad’s lowest of the year, four points less than the 62 points scored at South Dakota State. It was also the third time this season South Carolina won by single digits.
The Cocks shot an unimpressive 30.3% from the field, converted only 14 of their 24 free throw attempts and turned the ball over 14 times.
With all that in mind, how was South Carolina able to avoid suffering an upset loss? Three things stuck out to me: rebounding, the fast break and defense.
USC continued to dominate in the battle of the boards, out-rebounding Miss. State 53-35. Of those 53 rebounds, a whopping 22 of them were offensive boards, contributing greatly to the team’s 20 second chance points.
It felt like whenever a shot was missed, more often than not, there was someone (probably Boston, Cardoso or Saxton) under the basket to snag the ball and either get fouled or put it in the hoop.
The fast break, which contributed 12 points, also gave the Cocks some great opportunities to make something happen offensively without the Bulldogs’ stout defense prepared and set to make a stop.
In a game that saw Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke shoot a combined 9-for-30, cold streaks were expected, and a defense that was able to match Miss. State’s effectiveness bailed out a relatively off day for one of the best offenses in the nation.
The Gamecock defense played a clean game, too, as the Bulldogs shot a total of five free throws.
Despite not playing to each of their potentials, the standouts of the day were Boston and Cooke, who contributed 12 and 16 points respectively.
Kamila Cardoso also had a day off the bench with nine points and nine boards.
South Carolina will look to build on this win starting this Thursday night when the team travels to Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats.