Game story: Gamecocks fall in OT thriller

In Malik Cooke's final home game as a South Carolina basketball player, his teammates were determined to send him off victorious. Mississippi State, playing for its NCAA Tournament life, made just one more play than the Gamecocks could in a 69-67 overtime thriller at the Colonial Life Arena.

At one point the Mississippi State Bulldogs was going to earn a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. They sat at 19-5 overall and were off to a 6-3 start in SEC play. An excusable home loss to a bad Georgia team was the beginning of what would be a five-game losing streak that has dropped the Bulldogs to a projected #12 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Wednesday night's contest was a team who had the world to play for against a team that wanted to win for its lone senior. It took all of 45 minutes to decide a winner as Brian Bryant took a pass from under the MSU basket and put it in high off the glass as time expired in the first overtime to lead the Bulldogs to a much-needed 69-67 win over South Carolina in the Colonial Life Arena on Senior night for lone senior Malik Cooke.

"Obviously I don't know if I have a word to articulate how that one makes you feel," Carolina head coach Darrin Horn said. "We played really well; guarded really well. It was a total team effort; had nine guys in double figure minutes. I thought everybody that played contributed and brought the things that they need to do to give our team the opportunity to be successful. The overtime situation they made the last play on a switch that didn't happen properly. You have to credit him for making the shot; Bryant was a big key in the game. I hurt for our guys more than anything. It's one of those games where you feel like you deserved to win the game and they made the last play."

South Carolina's Bruce Ellington stripped Dee Bost as he was driving for the potential game-winning basket, but as Ellington grabbed the ball his momentum carried his back foot to the baseline giving the Bulldogs the ball with just 1.4 seconds left to play.

"The original plan was to get a lob to Arnett (Moultrie)," Bryant said. "I set the back-screen for him and when I set the back-screen both the defenders went with him so I just stepped towards the ball and knew we had to get a shot up so I just layed it up."

Bryant – Mississippi State's sixth-leading scorer – led Mississippi State with 16 points, none more important than the last two.

"We needed something good for us to happen tonight," Bulldog coach Rick Stansbury said. "We've had this situation two or three times in our little losing streak. The basketball gods were looking out for us tonight."

The Gamecocks built an early lead with a defense that forced eight early turnovers and pounded the glass on the offensive end. The Bulldogs would only turn the ball over six times the rest of the game and would shut down the defensive glass and head to the locker room with a 33-26 lead.

Carolina would hang around early in the second half and two Damien Leonard three pointers would give the Gamecocks a 48-46 lead with under ten minutes to play as the Gamecocks were able to knock down the open shots it did not hit in the first half.

"We got out in transition and got a few easy ones," Horn said of the second half success. "I thought we moved the ball better and Damien got a couple of open looks and knocked them down. We made some three's tonight, in a lot of respects the same shots we've been getting, but we knocked them down tonight."

Trailing by two with under 3:30 to play, Ellington nailed a three and then Ellington found a wide open Damontre Harris off a ball-screen for a jam to give Carolina a 58-55 lead with just 1:18 to play in regulation. Moultrie quickly tied the game back up on an old-fashioned three-point play with just under a minute to go. Anthony Gill was fouled on a putback attempt on the Gamecocks' next possession and calmly hit both free throws with 24 seconds left. Moultrie would be fouled again and hit both free throws to knot it back up at 60-60 with ten seconds left. Ellington had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but the shot was off the mark.

"I was really proud of them," Horn said. "I don't know if anybody really understands how hard it is to do what our team has been doing. Nobody is happy with our record; most of all me and my guys. I told them we just have to find a way to keep fighting. I was proud of their effort and thought it was as well as we've played and it was a total team effort."

In what has obviously been a disappointing season, Carolina has now lost 11 of its 19 losses by 10 points or less. That makes it even more difficult for a young team and a coach that could be fighting for his job.

"It's difficult," Horn said. "It's challenging when you have a team that gives great effort and continues to come back and work very hard. You look back and you feel like you played really well and we had a lot of guys contribute. It's tough. This is a game you feel like you deserve to win and you really want it for your guys. They continue to bounce back and to play like they did tonight and not come away with a win is tough."

Moultrie and Sidney both had double-doubles for the Bulldogs. Sidney had 12 points and 14 rebounds, while Moultrie finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Ellington led all scorers with 17 points – scoring five in overtime – and Harris finished with a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Cooke, playing in his final home game, finished with 11 points.

"I still haven't processed it yet," Cooke said. "I'm sure it will hit me later on tonight, but right now I'm still kind of wound up from the game I guess."

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