Bulldogs May Have Sealed Carolina's Fate

TAMPA -- With an RPI of 78 entering the day, Mississippi State knows it has to win the SEC Tournament to be a part of the NCAA field of 65. That doesn't mean the ‘Dogs can't mess things up for other teams along the way. State used a 10-0 run in the middle of the second half and a 9-0 run to end the game and defeat the South Carolina Gamecocks 82-68 in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament.

Barry Stewart scored 21 to lead the State attack while freshman Dee Bost added 14 points and 10 rebounds. Jarvis Varnado almost matched that double-double (12/9) and blocked six shots. Zam Fredrick led Carolina with 20 points, but his All-SEC back court mate Devan Downey managed just 11 on 5-for-20 shooting.

The Gamecocks had the early advantage in this one, shooting out to a 10-2 lead in the first five minutes. It was still 10-2 when Dee Bost ended the pain for Bulldogs fans with a lay up with 13:40 to go until halftime. South Carolina maintained a solid lead for several minutes with the advantage peaking at 10 points (28-18) on two Zam Fredrick free throws with 5:40 to go. The lead was seven at 36-29 with just under two minutes before the break but Carolina did not score again and State closed to four.

The second half began with an exchange of a couple of baskets before a 7-2 Mississippi State run tied the score at 45 with 13:40 to play. With 8:56 on the clock Brandis Raley-Ross executed a steal on one baseline and lay up at the other for a 55-52 Carolina lead, but it didn't last long. Barry Stewart hit a pair of three-pointers to ignite a 10-0 run and it was the Bulldogs who enjoyed their biggest lead of the afternoon at 62-55 with 5:48 to go. With the Bulldogs leading 64-57, Sam Muldrow put back a pair of offensive rebounds to draw the Gamecocks to within three only to see State answer with six more to make it 70-61.

The final two minutes should have been academic, but Mississippi State made it interesting with some poor free throw shooting. Jarvis Varnado missed the front end of a one-and-one and Dee Bost made just one of two, leading to a Raley-Ross three that cut the lead to 73-68. But Bost settled down and made the next two at the line and Ravern Johnson did as well to push the lead back to nine (77-68) with 42.3 seconds left. State added five more points to make the final look a lot more one-sided than the game really was.

Mississippi State improves to 21-12 and will face LSU in the first semi-final game Saturday at 1:00. Carolina falls to 21-9 and has to be viewed as a long shot at best for the NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks did finish second in the SEC East, but their weak non-conference schedule has them entering the day with a No. 49 RPI which is going to drop. Their best non-conference win is No. 51 Baylor and a loss to Clemson is their only other opponents outside the SEC with an RPI better than 150.

Tonight, Tennessee tries to find its identity against Alabama followed by what most of the country considers an elimination game between Florida and Auburn.


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