Mississippi State basketball players Gavin Ware (20) and Craig Sword (32) celebrate Wednesday's 56-54 win over South Carolina. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
The Mississippi State men's basketball team refused to go away quietly.Â
The Bulldogs (6-7, 1-0) trailed South Carolina (10-4, 0-1) for most of Wednesday night, but were able to pull out a 56-54 victory at Humphrey Coliseum in the opening game of the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule.Â
"(It's) great to get the first win in SEC," MSU head coach Rick Ray said. "For most of our guys, this is the first time they have experienced SEC basketball. For our guys to come out and get an SEC win is huge. Our guys did a good job of persevering."
The Bulldogs snapped a two-game losing streak in SEC openers.Â
After MSU freshman guard Fred Thomas missed two free throws with just under 10 seconds remaining, South Carolina's Bruce Ellington missed a 3-pointer that was deflected out of bounds by MSU freshman guard Tyson Cunningham with 0.8 seconds left in the game. The Gamecocks were unable to do anything with the inbound leading to the Bulldog win.
"I shot, they hit my wrist and they didn't call it," Ellington said.
MSU trailed 50-44 with 5:14 remaining in the game. The Bulldogs scored eight-straight points, capped off by Tyson Cunningham's steal leading to Fred Thomas's basket, to take a 52-50 lead with 3:25 left in the game.Â
The Gamecocks got two offensive rebounds in one possession leading to a LaKeem Jackson layup to tie the game at 52-52 with 1:18 left in the game.
"When you come down a stretch in a tight ballgame you have to have some calmness to it," Ray said. "You have assistant coaches in your ear. I said 'calm down we are going to be alright.'"
Sword knocked down two free throws with 46 seconds remaining to give MSU a 54-52 lead. He then got a steal and a dunk to give MSU a 56-52 lead with 30 seconds left in the game. Sword scored nine of his team-high 18 points in the last 10 minutes of the game.Â
South Carolina's Michael Carrera answered with a layup with 17 seconds left.Â
"A lot of credit to Rick and his kids," South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said. "I thought they played real hard. A lot of credit (goes to MSU). Those kids fought and clawed. All the adversity they have been dealing with, the personnel and roster, credit to them."
Mississippi State forced 24 Gamecock turnovers. South Carolina turned the ball over five times down the stretch.
"We just had bad turnovers," Martin said. "(When) you go on the road, if you can have a lead going into that last media (timeout), you are giving yourself a chance."
Sword, junior guard Jalen Steele and sophomore guard Trivante Bloodman all suffered from leg cramps in the second half.Â
"First time I twisted my ankle and then the cramps started coming in," Sword said. "That was my first time ever to catch a cramp. I just fought through it."
It was Steele's first start since coming back from a wrist injury. He had been coming off the bench in his first two games back, but Ray decided to give him the nod Wednesday night.
"I felt good," Steele said. "I still see that i need to get more game time shape. Other than that, I felt good. Energy was there and we fed off the crowd."
The Bulldogs were 0-of-10 from behind he 3-point line. MSU snapped a 262 game streak of making a 3-pointer. It is the first time the Bulldogs have won when not making a 3-pointer.Â
The last time MSU did not make a 3-pointer was Jan. 18, 2005 at Alabama.Â
MSU made 19-of-49 field goals for 38.8 percent, while South Carolina was 20-of-51 for 39.2 percent.Â
South Carolina opened the second half on a 5-0 run to push its lead to 31-26.Â
The Bulldogs opened the game on a 4-0 run, the Gamecocks answered with their own 12-0 run to take a 12-4 lead with 14:52 remaining in the opening half.Â
MSU then went on a 10-0 run to take a 14-12 lead.Â
The Gamecocks were led by Brian Richardson who had a game-high 20 points. Junior guard Bruce Ellington, fresh off playing for the Gamecock football team, chipped in 11 points and Eric Smith added eight points.Â
Along with Sword's 18 points, Roquez Johnson had 14 points to lead the Bulldogs. Colin Borchert and Thomas each had eight points. Borchert led the Bulldogs with six rebounds.
MSU travels to Georgia Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. tipoff. The game can be seen on the SEC Network.
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