STARKVILLE, Miss. (MSU Athletics) – Senior day provided a disappointing ending for the Mississippi State men’s basketball team Saturday afternoon.
MSU rallied from a 12-point first half deficit, grabbed an eight-point lead but could not close out the victory. South Carolina rallied to post a 74-62 win over MSU in the final Southeastern Conference regular season game for each team.
MSU will enter the SEC Tournament as the No. 14 seed and will face No. 11 seed Vanderbilt (15-15, 7-11 SEC) in Wednesday’s opening round at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga. The contest will be televised regionally by SEC TV and show locally on either Fox SportsNet or SportSouth. The game will also be available on ESPN3.com.
The South Carolina win ruined the final Humphrey Coliseum appearance for MSU seniors Tyson Cunningham and Colin Borchert. South Carolina improved to 12-19 overall and 5-13 in league play, while MSU fell to 13-18 and 3-15.
“We have faced a lot of adversity this year,” MSU sophomore Fred Thomas said. “It is tough because there are some little things that we aren’t getting done. We just can’t get over the hump and get that win. We still have a lot of confidence. We are playing hard. Everybody can see that.
“We just can’t have one player ready to play and amped for the game and another player not.”
MSU started slow. The Bulldogs struggled offensively and committed 12 of their 14 turnovers in the opening half.
A 3-pointer and follow-up layup by Brenton Williams gave the Gamecocks a 16-4 advantage. For Williams, the lone senior on the USC roster, it was the beginning of big night as he hit seven 3-point baskets and scored 27 points.
MSU closed within seven twice before mounting a serious run late in the first half. Down 31-21, the Bulldogs scored seven straight points and got the coliseum crowd back into the activity. A jumper by Ready and free throw by Borchert brought the Bulldogs within 31-28.
South Carolina eased back out to a 36-29 advantage at halftime.
“We gave them a 16-4 lead and you just can’t spot someone that many points,” MSU head coach Rick Ray said. “If you look at the first half, they had 13 points off second-chance points and 10 points off turnovers. Our No. 1 thing was rebound the basketball and No. 2 take care of the basketball.
“We didn’t do those things in the first half.”
In the second half, the Bulldogs need a little more than three minutes to score the half’s first 11 points. A jumper by Craig Sword and follow-up old-fashioned 3-point play by Sword capped the run and gave the Bulldogs a 40-36 lead with 16:46 left in the half.
The Bulldogs kept the defensive intensity up and grabbed a 47-39 lead when Sword put back a Trivante Bloodman offensive rebound.
MSU could not build on the momentum as it missed nine of its next 10 shots from the field. On the other end, Williams was beginning to heat up for the Gamecocks.
A 3-pointer by Williams brought the Gamecocks within one and another one tied the contest. The Gamecocks took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Sindarius Thornwell. The lead quickly grew to 10 at 61-51 with three straight treys by Williams.
MSU closed within four points but got no closer the rest of the way.
“It is all about sustained effort,” Ray said. “And it’s not just physical effort, it’s mental effort as well. Everybody is so much bigger and stronger than us on the front line.”
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 21 of 49 shots from the field (42.9 percent), 3 of 11 shots from the 3-point line (27.3 percent) and 17 of 25 shots from the foul line (68.0 percent). The Gamecocks hit 28 of 64 shots from the field (43.8 percent), 10 of 20 shots from the 3-point line (50.0 percent) and 8 of 16 shots from the foul line (50.0 percent).
South Carolina held a 46-27 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 10 assists and 14 turnovers, while the Gamecocks had 12 assists and 15 turnovers.
Sword led MSU with 19 points, while Thomas added 15 points.
Behind Williams, USC’s Thornwell had a double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds, while Mindaugus Kacinas added 13 points.