Gamecocks Let Win on Big Day Slip Away 61-56

Up three with 6.1 seconds left, the Gamecocks were poised to put the "culminating star" on the 100 Years of Basketball Celebration. Instead, Ben Hansbrough hit three free throws to send the game to overtime where Mississippi State won 61-56.

After Evka Baniulis made 1 of 2 free throws to give South Carolina a 50-47 lead, Dave Odom called a timeout. With 6.1 seconds left, Odom wanted to avoid a repeat of the Vanderbilt game, when Jermaine Beale drove the length of the court for a game-winning layup.

Mississippi State's Jamont Gordon found Hansbrough open in the corner. Hansbrough misses the shot, but was knocked to the floor by Baniulis. The referees put 1.1 seconds on the clock, and Hansbrough, the younger brother of North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, went to the line. After Dwayne Day whispered something in his ear, and with Gamecock fans yelling, "Tyler's shadow," Hansbrough, a 76.7% free throw shooter, calmly sent the game to overtime.

"We told everybody…not to leave three point shooters," said Odom. "If you can get to Gordon when he crosses half court, foul him. We ended up trailing him across half-court instead of leading him, and that was the first problem."

"What could I tell Ben Hansbrough?" Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "There is no one stepping to the line that is more confident than Ben Hansbrough. Those are the moments he plays for. As a coach, there is nothing you can say [to him]."

Even though Gordon fouled out on the first play of overtime, Mississippi State easily outscored the Gamecocks 11-6 in the extra period. Letting the lead slipped away seemed to sap whatever energy Carolina had, and the Bulldogs were not seriously challenged.

"When you go into overtime after having the game pretty much in hand, it really does sink your spirits," Odom said. "I tried the best I could to get them to focus on the overtime, but clearly we had exhausted a lot of energy."

Both teams struggled mightily on offense, and the game looked like it belonged in the era of some of the older alumni who were honored at halftime. In fact, the alumni put on a better offensive performance than the real thing, with the final of the alumni game being 63-56, White over Black.

In the first half, where Carolina led 21-20, Mississippi State shot a pitiful 37.5% from the field, yet the Gamecocks were even worse at 28.6%. shooting improved in the second half, and the Bulldogs finished the game shooting 43.4%, and Carolina shooting 30.8%. The key to the Gamecocks' poor shooting was Stansbury's decision to go with a zone defense instead of man-to-man.

"I thought the number one thing we had to do to win was keep Downey out of the lane," said Stansbury. "We put in a [zone] just to try to keep Downey out of the lane. In my opinion, he's the best point guard in the country. Fortunately enough for us, they didn't shoot as well as they are capable of shooting."

Saying the Gamecocks did not shoot as well as they could was an understatement. The Gamecocks took 36 threes, making just 7 (19.4%). Baniulis and Dwayne Day both went 1-7 from three, and Zam Fredrick went 0-7. The Gamecocks got open looks on many of the shots, but the ball just wouldn't stay down.

"We never really solved their zone," said Odom. "When you look at the stat sheet, it was clearly our worst shooting day of the year. To be right there to win the basketball game right there at the end is truly amazing. They did everything they could possibly do, except make shots, to win."

On top of the bad three point shooting, Carolina was just 9-17 from the free throw line. That included 3-6 in the last 2 minutes, when they could have iced the game. Fredrick, Day, and Baniulis all went 1-2. For Day, it was just his fifteenth and sixteenth attempts of the year, and for Baniulis, it was his first two attempts of the season.

"They made their free throws and we did not," said Odom. "You don't want to lay it on [Baniulis], but that's the first time he's shot a free throw all year. How you can play 400 plus minutes and not shoot a free throw, I don't know. It's just another one of those things that could have solidified the game but didn't."

Notes:

- In a matchup between Gordon and Downey, two of the ten Cousy award finalists, Downey got the upper hand. He had 19 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist to Gordon's 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. It was just the third time this season Gordon scored below double figures.

- Charles Rhodes led Mississippi State with a game-high 24 points and 9 rebounds.

- Mike Holmes had his second straight double-double, with 12 points and 13 rebounds. It is also the second double-double of his career.

- Zam Fredrick continues to be mired in a shooting slump. He is 7-32 from the field in his last three games.

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