Mississippi State nips Gamecocks, 55-53

The Mississippi State Bulldogs used a 13-0 run late in the second half to grab the lead, then held off a late South Carolina rally to defeat the Gamecocks 55-53 Thursday night at the Colonial Life Arena. The loss was just the third home loss of the season and drops the Gamecocks to 13-11 overall and 6-6 in SEC play. The Bulldogs moved to 16-9 and 7-5 in SEC play.

"Very difficult," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said of the loss. "It was a very winnable game, but we didn't deserve to win. We lost the game in our preparation the last two games, preparing for Mississippi State. And that's my job. It's my job to get them right, and they were not right coming into the game."

The Gamecocks seemingly reverted back to the team they were earlier this season, turning the ball over 18 times and shooting a miserable 35%. The Gamecocks stayed in the game by dominating the boards, outrebounding the Bulldogs 41-29, including 21 offensive rebounds.

Early on, it appeared the Gamecocks were going to have control of the game. Carolina got off to an 11-3 lead thanks in part to two 3-pointers by Valerie Nainima. The Bulldogs cut it down to 13-11, but baskets by Iesia Walker and Kelsey Bone pushed the lead back to 6. The Gamecocks would only score 6 points the remainder of the half and saw Mississippi State tie the game on an Alexis Rack jumper with 6 seconds remaining, 23-23.

Mississippi State's Mary Kathryn Govera hit a 3-pointer to start the second half, giving the Bulldogs a 26-23 lead. A pair of baskets by La'Keisha Sutton gave the Gamecocks the lead, but MSU would score the next 5 to take a 31-27 lead 5 minutes into the half. Carolina would hold the Bulldogs scoreless the next 5 minutes and would take a 36-31 lead on a Sutton jumper. A Charenee Stephens jumper and free throw after a Chanel Mokango basket would give the Gamecocks a 39-33 lead with 8:31 left. From there, MSU went on the 13-0 run in just over 3 minutes to take a 46-39 lead and it appeared that the game was all but over. After a Stephens jumper ended the run, Jewel May got a steal and a lay-up to quickly cut the lead to 46-43. Rack, who scored 15 points for the Bulldogs, answered with a crushing 3-pointer to push the lead back to 6. A Rack lay-up gave the Bulldogs a 54-46 lead with just under 2 minutes to play, but the Gamecocks would continue to fight back. A 3-pointer by Walker, followed by a fast break lay-up by Nainima cut it back down to 3 with just under a minute to go. After holding the Bulldogs, Nainima scored and was fouled to bring the Gamecocks to within 1 at 54-53. On the free throw, Stephens was called for a lane violation to turn the ball back over to the Bulldogs with just 29 seconds left.

"I don't know what happened with the Charenee because we know Val takes a long time to shoot free throws," Staley said. "So that was a mental mistake."

The Gamecocks elected not to foul and tried to force another turnover from MSU, a team that is prone to turnovers. The Gamecocks were not able to force a turnover and were forced to foul with just 7 seconds remaining. It was only the 6th team foul so the Gamecocks had to foul again with 5 seconds left, sending Rack to the free throw line.

"We are working with a young basketball team that has probably never been in that situation before and Mississippi State was turning the ball over, so we wanted to give them an opportunity to turn the ball over. We felt like what was left on the clock [would be enough], even with them shooting those free throws at the end that would put us down by three if she made both of them. We had plays that we have been working on, full court plays and seven seconds is plenty of time for us, so I don't mind that part of it."

Rack made the first free throw to put the Bulldogs up 55-53, but missed the second. The Gamecocks called a timeout with 2 seconds left on the clock to set up a final play. The play went to Bone, who got off a pretty good shot, but it failed to connect and gave MSU the win.

"We still got a very good shot at the basket," Staley said. "But it didn't come down to those two plays [the lane violation and final shot]. It came down to plays in which things broke down and they got offensive rebounds and kicked back to the shooters. We weren't supposed to leave the shooters open. So it came down to that. It didn't come down to those last two plays."

Staley, who was obviously disappointed in her team's effort, said she will definitely be addressing this loss before preparing for the Arkansas game on Sunday.

"We have to address it. I have been addressing it since Tuesday. Our players have a responsibility in it too. They have to get themselves into the position to get up and play basketball games. If we didn't want to compete and play for a stake in the SEC standings - we are trying to get to the top four spots - and if they didn't want to do that then we shouldn't have won at Auburn and we shouldn't have won at Georgia. Don't get us really excited about what's taking place here and then take a step back on our home floor. You have got to take care of home in this league because road games are really hard to come by. And we didn't accomplish that today."

The Gamecocks missed a perfect opportunity to get into the top 4. With Florida's 70-30 loss to LSU, the Gamecocks would have moved into 4th, with the possibility of moving to 3rd should Tennessee beat Ole Miss. Instead, it will be the Bulldogs who occupy that spot, while the Gamecocks drop into a tie for 6th with Georgia.

The game with Arkansas Sunday will be televised on ESPN 2 at 3:00. The team will be wearing pink uniforms to support cancer awareness and the first 100 fans will receive a free pink t-shirt. There will also be a ceremony at halftime to celebrate all fans in the arena that are cancer survivors.

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