Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

No. 4 Bulldogs' record start halted with heartbreaker at No. 5 South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Playing on the biggest stage in women's basketball, No. 4 Mississippi State saw its season-opening 20-game win streak come to an end with a heart-breaking 64-61 loss to No. 5 South Carolina Monday night at Colonial Life Arena.

The reigning Southeastern Conference champion Gamecocks won their ninth straight in the series but had to work every second to defend the home court against the Bulldogs in MSU's first-ever appearance in the prestigious ESPN Big Monday television package.

"It was a wonderful basketball game," MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. "South Carolina made one more play than we did. I am heart-broken for my kids. I couldn't be prouder of 19 offensive rebounds. South Carolina and Tennessee are the two biggest teams in our league. We really competed from the opening tip.

"I know how hard our kids work. It came down to one play and we were in a position. We forced three second-half turnovers and that wasn't enough. Once we got calmed down (in the second half), I was proud of how we responded."

MSU fell to 20-1 and 6-1 in play, while South Carolina improves to 17-1 and 7-0. It is the only regular-season meeting between the teams. In the initial rankings on the NCAA women's basketball selection committee, both teams were projected as No. 1 seeds for the NCAA tournament. Each looked the part in a nip-and-tuck hard-fought battle.

MSU played arguably its best half of the year and led 35-28 at halftime. Foul trouble hurt the cause down the stretch. Still, the Maroon and White had two offensive shots at the basket down 62-61 in the waning seconds.

Victoria Vivians and Breanna Richardson each had 12 points to lead the Bulldogs, while Teaira McCowan added 10 points. Chinwe Okorie had a team-high 10 rebounds, as the Bulldogs inside game held their own throughout the contest.

The Bulldogs set the tone for a competitive contest by scoring the game's first seven points. MSU quickly went to work on a night of 19 offensive rebounds during that opening stretch. A 3-pointer by Dominique Dillingham gave the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead with 4:01 left in the quarter.

South Carolina responded and trailed 16-15 at the quarter.

The Bulldogs fell behind early in the second quarter but surged back ahead with a 7-2 run for a 27-22 lead. In the opening half, the Bulldogs shot 45.7 from the field to take a 35-28 halftime lead.

South Carolina used an 8-0 run midway through the third quarter to take a 41-37 lead. However, the Bulldogs weren't going away and got back even at 43 on another 3-pointer by Dillingham.

South Carolina carried a 49-48 lead into the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks would later hit a single free throw to take the lead for good at 56-55 with 3:40 left. The Bulldogs missed a pair of open 3-point shots and also missed a potential go-ahead layup as the clock moved inside one minute.

For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 26 of 66 shots from the field (39.4 percent), 6 of 16 shots from 3-point range (37.5 percent) and 3 of 9 shots from the foul line (33.3 percent). The Gamecocks hit 20 of 42 shots from the field (47.6 percent), 3 of 13 shots from 3-point range (23.1 percent) and 21 of 28 shots from the foul line (75.0 percent).

MSU held a 34-33 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 16 assists and nine turnovers, while the Gamecocks had 10 assists and 14 turnovers.

South Carolina received 26 points from A'ja Wilson and 17 points from Allisha Gray.

MSU will return to action Sunday when Texas A&M comes to the Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldogs and Aggies tip at 3 p.m. on the SEC Network.

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