Gamecocks rally to defeat MVSU

The South Carolina Gamecocks (2-2) rallied for a 61-57 victory over Mississippi Valley State (0-4) on Tuesday night at Colonial Life Arena competing in the second game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational.

Senior forward Malik Cooke led the Gamecocks with 18 points, and freshman guard Damien Leonard scored a career-high 16 points for the Gamecocks. Freshman forward Anthony Gill corralled a game-leading seven rebounds, and redshirt freshman Carlton Geathers blocked a career high three shots.

Mississippi Valley State was led by junior guard Terrance Joyner with 22 points and senior forward Falando Jones who tallied 11 points in the contest. The Delta Devil's senior guard Cor-J Cox pulled down a game-leading seven rebounds. Senior center Paul Crosby and freshman guard Luca Pajkovic added six boards for MVSU.

After giving up the first basket to Mississippi Valley State, the Gamecocks went on a 23-7 run to start the game. Leonard led the charge during the Gamecocks' surge with 12 points on a 4-of-5 performance from behind the arc. The run gave the Gamecocks a 14-point lead, their largest of the game, at the 8:16 mark in the first half.

Mississippi Valley State found a rhythm and went on a run of their own. The Delta Devils outscored the Gamecocks 14 to 5 over the last 6:59 of the first half to pull within four points at the break. Geathers blocked Amos Studivant's jumper in the lane that would have tied the game at 28. Cooke was fouled on the subsequent rebound and knocked down two free throws with 21 seconds left in the half to give the Gamecocks a 30-26 advantage at the break.

Mississippi Valley State took the lead early coming out of the locker room on back-to-back transition layups to begin the second half by Kevin Burwell and Terrance Joyner. Joyner drew sophomore forward Damontre Harris' third foul and converted a three-point play that gave the Delta Devils a 31-30 lead, their first lead of the game since the opening basket.

South Carolina, who had begun to chip away at the MVSU lead since the 6:36 mark in the second half, then began a feverish comeback that was ignited by the Gamecocks defense. Sophomore forward R.J. Slawson stole the ball at midcourt due to the South Carolina press. Sophomore guard Eric Smith drained a three-pointer, which was assisted by Slawson on a crosscourt pass, to cut the lead to five at 48-53 with 3:19 remaining.

South Carolina continued to apply the press and forced another turnover, which resulted in two Leonard free throws to bring the Gamecocks to within three. A third consecutive steal, this time on an inbounds pass created a Leonard fast break layup to cut the MVSU lead to one at 52-53.

Gill drew a charge on Crosby to give the Gamecocks a chance to take the lead. Slawson drained a jumper with just 2:00 minutes remaining to take the lead at 54-53. Cooke put back a Slawson miss to extend the Gamecocks' lead to three. Cooke collected a loose ball and hit two free throws to make the score 58-53 with 55.7 to go in the game.

The Delta Devils cut the Gamecocks' lead to one at a score of 58-57 on shots by Cox and freshman guard Brent Arrington with just 24 seconds remaining, but Cooke extended the Gamecock lead to 61-57 on two trips to the line.

The Gamecocks are back in action on Friday night at 10 p.m. at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., as they face top-ranked North Carolina in the third game of the Las Vegas Invitational.

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