Bulldogs overcome deficits, cramps, and the Gamecocks in 56-54 SEC opening win

Despite cold shooting streaks and cramps, Mississippi State was able to win its season opener Wednesday night, defeating the South Carolina Gamecocks 56-54 at the Humphrey Coliseum.

There are a few things you can expect from Mississippi State's basketball team this year. The first is cold shooting streaks during a game; the Bulldogs have suffered at least one in every game so far this season it seems. But the other thing you can expect from this team? Effort. And in droves.

Mississippi State used an outstanding 40 minute defensive effort to overcome the Gamecocks 56-54 Wednesday night. The win moved Mississippi State to 6-7 on the season and 1-0 in SEC play. The Gamecocks fell to 10-4 and 0-1 in the SEC.

In the first half, MSU got off to a good start, forcing a turnover on South Carolina's initial possession, and scoring the first four points of the game to take a 4-0 lead to start. But State would run a bit cold after that, and saw their 4-0 lead turn into a 12-4 deficit. Many may have thought at that point, "oh boy, here we go again", but not Rick Ray's team. They continued to play solid defense, and as the shots started going in, State found themselves knotted with the Gamecocks at 26 points a piece at the half.

The second half was more of the same, as State and USC went back and forth. With only five minutes and fourteen seconds left to play, State found themselves down 50-44. As the Bulldogs went to the huddle for the media timeout, Rick Ray could tell his team was discouraged, seeing the odds of defeat increasing before them.

"We were in a media timeout and the kids were really down in the huddle," Ray said. "I told them to not worry about their offense and to worry about stops. Down six points with six minutes to go means all you have to do is make up a point a minute. We knew we could do that if we could get their heads back up."

The Bulldogs would respond by scoring eight points over the next two minutes to take a 52-50 lead with just over three minutes to play. After a South Carolina bucket to tie things at 52, State scored the next four points to take the 56-52 lead. South Carolina's Michael Carrera added a basket for the Gamecocks, and the lead decreased to just two at 56-54. USC immediately fouled MSU freshman Fred Thomas, and Thomas missed both of the following free throws, giving the Gamecocks one last shot at a tie or the win. But the Bruce Ellington three-pointer was blocked by Tyson Cunningham out of bounds, and South Carolina's last chance heave by Brian Richardson missed its mark as well, preserving the Bulldog win.

Mississippi State was led in scoring by sensational freshman Craig Sword. Sword, last year's Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Alabama, scored 18 points for State in 28 minutes of play. Roquez Johnson added 14 for the Bulldogs, and both Colin Borchert and Fred Thomas chipped in 8 points a piece as well.

The story for MSU on the night though was defense, as State forced 24 Gamecock turnovers, scoring 28 points off of those. Playing through cramps for the last half of the second half or so, State held Frank Martin's team to just 39.2% shooting for the game, 36.7% in the second half. And they hustled. From the opening tip to the final whistle. That is what is so impressive about this team. The effort is always there, even when the scoring and wins aren't. But tonight, Rick Ray got all three out of his team.

The Gamecocks were led in scoring by Brian Richardson, who had 20 points in 35 minutes of play. Bruce Ellington, who just joined the team following the finish of football season, added 11 points for the garnet and black.

Mississippi State will now take its undefeated conference record on the road this Saturday, as they get set to take on the other Bulldawgs, those of the Georgia variety, in a Saturday game in Athens. Tip off is set for 12:30 p.m. (CT), and will be televised regionally by the SEC Network. The Georgia Bulldawgs are coming off of a 77-44 loss at the hands of the Florida Gators last night.

  • Read the full (and much better) game recap and check out all of the highlights and the post game press conference at the HailState.com article.
  • Full statistics for last night's game can be found here.
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