Hot shooting gives State 76-63 win over USC

From the beginning the Mississippi State sharpshooters were at work, hitting the Gamecocks with 7 first half 3-pointers and shooting 50% on the night. It was another off night for Devan Downey as well, as he finished with just 12 points in the Gamecocks fifth straight loss.

After falling behind by 13, the Gamecocks tried to begin their second half surge early, going on a 8-0 run to cut the Mississippi State lead to just 5 points in the late stages of the first half. However, State responded as they had for much of the game, with two quick 3-pointers from Ravern Johnson to build their lead back up before heading to halftime up 35-28.

For the first ten minutes it was a clean game, with the first foul on either team not coming until midway through the first half. But the first two fouls came quickly for the Gamecocks, and both were on Johndre Jefferson, sending him quickly to the bench. USC knew coming in it would need all the help it could get against State star Jarvis Varnado, who finished the first half with 10 points.

The story of the first half for the Bulldogs was their 3-point shooting, as they came out with guns blazing, hitting 7 of their 13 attempts from long range in the first half. Barry Stewart was the leader of the barrage from downtown, connecting on 4 of 5 attempts for all 12 of his first half points.

"We knew coming in to the game that Mississippi State's ability, but also commitment to shooting the 3 was going to be really important to their team, regardless of who they played," said Horn after the game. "They found a way to shoot 20-plus 3-point attempts a game. We wanted to do our best to take them away. I think you have to credit them for the most part."

With USC going back to the 3-2 zone after trying to stop Kentucky with a good deal of man-to-man, the defense was unable to show up on the State 3-point shooters, leading them to a number of wide open looks.

The SEC's all-time leading shot blocker registered just one block, as Varnado made his presence felt with key baskets on the offensive end. Varnado used his long arms and soft touch to make several baskets right over the top of the USC defense.

Carolina was led in the first half by a trio of scorers, with Devan Downey, Sam Muldrow, and Lakeem Jackson combining for 21 of USC's 28 points. Muldrow led Gamecock scorers with 8 points, doing his work down low against State's all-SEC performer in Varnado.

If State was considered on fire from 3-point land, the Gamecocks definitely were not, hitting just 1 of their 8 attempts early on. Still, USC faced a surmountable deficit of just 7 points heading into the 2nd half, even with the barrage that Miss. St. had sent at them so far.

An early second half run brought USC as close as two points, but the Bulldogs were able to respond in a big way with a 21-5 run to pull away. After the Bulldogs took their largest lead of the game at 60-44, USC was not able to seriously get back into the contest.

"We made adjustments at halftime but it seemed like every time they needed a shot to go down, they did that," added Horn. "But we got terrific play from our young kids."

Over the last ten minutes of the game, USC did its best to get back in it, once drawing as close as 9 points before Mississippi State was able to seal the deal.

In the end, five Gamecocks scored in double figures in the losing effort. Sam Muldrow led USC with 15 points, with Ramon Galloway adding 14, and Lakeem Jackson scoring 10. Downey and Brandis Raley-Ross also chipped in 12 apiece. It was an SEC low for Downey, who just could not seem to find his shot in the face of the State defenders.

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury was still complimentary of Downey even when holding him down most of the night.

"I hope we never have to play against Devan Downey again," said the Bulldog coach. "He's not just one of the best players in the state, he's one of the best players in the country. For us to come in here and do a defensive job on him, is pretty impressive for some of our guys."

Jarvis Varnado was one of five Bulldogs who also scored double figures. Varnado led the way with 19, while Barry Stewart, who had a hot 3 point hand all game, added 18. The other three State players with 10+ points were Ravern Johnson with 15, Kodi Augustus with 13, and Dee Bost with 11. The Gamecocks may have been wary of the big man's shot blocking ability coming into the game, but Varnado finished with just 1 lone block on the night.

In the end it was the Bulldogs hot shooting from the field that carried them through as they shot an even 50% on the night. Although they cooled a bit in the second half, Rick Stansbury's team still managed to hit 47% of their 3-pointers on the night as well.

The Gamecocks have now dropped 5 games in a row after beating Florida on February 10th. This loss also drops their record to an even 14-14, but 5-9 in the SEC.

With just one more home game against Alabama on Wednesday night, Horn knows this team is not where it imagined at the beginning of the season. However, he said that in the game this week and in the SEC Tournament, it will be up to the team and especially the seniors to decide their own legacy.

"I think you tell the senior about a decision about how they want to finish at home on Wednesday night," said Horn. "And how they want to go out and get a win at home at their last game. And for our guys coming back, you tell them to continue to fight and build and understand that everything we do is to continue to move forward for the future as well."

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