GAME NOTES: A pair of squads tied for last place in the SEC will try to climb out of the cellar on Wednesday night, as the South Carolina Gamecocks play host to the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Mississippi State was in the midst of its most brutal stretch of the season heading into its latest game, having lost 13 consecutive games, but it snapped out of that funk against intrastate rival Ole Miss this past Saturday, 73-67, to improve to 8-20 overall and 3-13 in conference. The Bulldogs have had next to no success away from Starkville, however, going a miserable 1-10.
After starting the season a promising 10-3, South Carolina (13-16) has struggled mightily in the SEC at just 3-13. The Gamecocks are losers of three straight contests, most recently falling at Texas A&M last Saturday, 74-56.
Mississippi State outlasted South Carolina in a Jan. 9 matchup, 56-54, to improve its standing in the all-time series to 17-8.
The Bulldogs had a modest shooting night the last time out (.417), but thanks to a stout defensive effort (.338 FG percentage against) and a busy night at the foul line (27-of-37), they were able to put a rare tally in the win column against an impressive Ole Miss squad. Pacing four players in double figures was Colin Borchert with a career-high 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. Gavin Ware added 12 points, Jalen Steele and Roquez Johnson tallied 10 apiece off the bench, and Craig Sword rounded out a solid attack with nine assists and four steals. It was certainly an unusual performance for MSU, which ranks last in the SEC in both scoring offense (59.7 ppg) and scoring defense (69.5 ppg), and its -9.8 scoring margin is nearly three times worse than the next-worst team. Although the club is without a double-digit scorer, it gets modest contributions from several players. Steele (9.7 ppg), Sword (9.7 ppg) and Fred Thomas (9.4 ppg) lead the way, while Ware (8.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Johnson (8.8 ppg) and Borchert (8.1 ppg) are also fairly consistent.
Despite holding a four-point lead early in the second half against Texas A&M, South Carolina quickly lost control of its latest matchup en route to an 18- point setback. It was outshot from the field, .537 to .383, and lost the turnover battle, 17-8. Michael Carrera finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Bruce Ellington chipped in 10 points and six assists. On the season, the Gamecocks rank in the middle of the SEC pack in terms of offensive production (.415 FG percentage, 66.0 ppg), but those numbers have been slipping with each passing game, as they have scored 63 points or fewer in nine of their last 10 outings. Carrera is piecing together a solid freshman campaign down low, recording 10.4 ppg and 7.2 rpg, while Brenton Williams is the top threat out on the perimeter with 10.0 ppg. Ellington (9.8 ppg), Brian Richardson (8.3 ppg) and Lakeem Jackson (7.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg) are also enjoying solid seasons.
Mississippi State's emotions were running high in its last game in a rivalry matchup on Senior Night, and it'll more than likely be unable to duplicate that kind of energy in this contest. South Carolina has been far from impressive, but against a fellow hapless squad, it should find a way to pull this one out at home.
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