Fresh off a victory over in-state rival Ole Miss, the Mississippi State men’s basketball team could not duplicate that magic Wednesday night.
The Bulldogs shot 51.1 percent from the floor but an inability to string together stops early in the second half loomed large, as MSU dropped a 79-72 decision to South Carolina in a Southeastern Conference contest played at Colonial Life Arena.
With the defeat, MSU fell to 8-21 overall and 3-14 in league play. The Bulldogs have now lost eight straight conference road games, after opening league road play with a win at Georgia. South Carolina improved to 14-16 overall and 4-13 in league play, while snagging a season split with MSU.
The teams remained nip-and-tuck early despite offensive struggles for MSU.
After a jumper by MSU’s Craig Sword 51 seconds into the contest, the Bulldogs went close to five minutes before collecting another basket. Still, when Colin Borchert rammed home a 3-point basket, the Bulldogs only trailed 10-7.
After MSU’s Roquez Johnson tied the teams at 12 on a putback, South Carolina grabbed a 23-16 lead thanks to an 11-4 run. The Bulldogs were beginning to find a rhythm and actually grabbed a 26-25 lead after back-to-back baskets by Gavin Ware.
The Gamecocks took better care of the basketball in the first half and eased into the intermission with a 34-32 advantage.
South Carolina went to work early in the second half, reeling off a 13-0 run to build a 50-35 lead with 10:53 left in the contest.
The lead grew to 22 on a 3-pointer by South Carolina’s Brenton Williams with 8:56 left.
Williams proved a one-man wrecking crew for USC as he celebrated Senior Night with 38 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field. Williams was 6-of-9 from 3-point range and 12-of-12 at the foul line.
Still, MSU battled back. The Bulldogs strung together 14 straight points to close within 68-63 on a Sword jumper with 2:37 left. Thomas and Sword each had 3-point baskets during the run.
MSU could get no closer than five the rest of the way, as South Carolina eased to victory at the free throw line.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 24 of 47 shots from the field (51.1 percent), 7 of 20 shots from 3-point range (35.0 percent) and 17 of 28 shots from the field (60.7 percent). The Gamecocks hit 21 of 46 shots from the field (45.7 percent), 9 of 22 shots from 3-point range (40.9 percent) and 28 of 35 shots from the foul line (80.0 percent).
The teams were even at 28 in rebounds. The Bulldogs had 14 assists and 20 turnovers, while the Gamecocks had 18 assists and 13 turnovers.
Sword led MSU with 20 points, while Jalen Steele added 17 points and Johnson added 12 points.
MSU closes its regular season with a 4:30 p.m. start Saturday against Auburn. Senior Day festivities will be held in the pregame, while Fox Sports Net South will have a regional broadcast from the Humphrey Coliseum.