Wilson leads No. 5 Gamecocks past No. 4 Bulldogs
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A’ja Wilson tied her season high with 26 points, Allisha Gray had 16 of her 17 points in the final two quarters and No. 5 South Carolina held off previously undefeated No. 4 Mississippi State 64-61 in a Southeastern Conference showdown Monday night.
The Gamecocks (17-1, 7-0 SEC) trailed 35-28 at halftime and were still down 48-46 with less than two minutes left in the third period. But behind Wilson and Gray, South Carolina pushed forward for its ninth straight win over the Bulldogs (20-1, 6-1) and grabbed control of the conference as it tries for a fourth straight SEC title.
Mississippi State had several chances to win. Victoria Vivians could’ve tied the game at 62 after getting fouled on a 3-pointer with 18.6 seconds left. But after hitting the first two free throws, Vivians’ final attempt rattled away and the ball went out of bounds off the Gamecocks.
Blair Schaefer’s 3-pointer from the right corner with 8 seconds left missed the mark. Again, the ball came up Mississippi State’s way on a tie up beneath the basket. But Vivians missed a short shot with 4 seconds left, Wilson collected the rebound and hit two foul shots for the final margin.
Breanna Richardson and Vivians each had 12 points to lead the Bulldogs.
THE BIG PICTURE
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs used their own power post duo to gain control of things early. Six-foot-5 Chinwe Okorie had seven rebounds, five of them offensive, in the first minutes against South Carolina’s vaunted post pair of 6-5 Wilson and 6-4 Coates. When Okorie had to take a seat with two fouls, 6-7 sophomore backup Teaira McCowan gave the Gamecocks fits with her athletic play as she made all four of her shots.
McCowan, though, picked up three fouls in the opening 20 minutes. As the fouls built up, it opened things for South Carolina’s Gray to slash to the basket in the second half.
Maybe the Gamecocks have too much of a belief in their own ultimate success. How else to explain their sluggish showing at the start of the game (they fell behind 7-0 and 14-7) and at the end of the second quarter (Mississippi State outscored them 15-8 over the final seven minutes before the break? South Carolina, which came in averaging 13 turnovers a game, had 11 in the first two quarters to fall behind at halftime for just the second time this year. In the other, Duke finished the 74-63 upset for what had been South Carolina’s only loss. The Gamecocks tightened things up down the stretch with just three second-half turnovers in rallying past Mississippi State.
Mississippi State returns home to play Texas A&M on Sunday.
South Carolina goes to Georgia on Thursday night.