NASHVILLE | Recapping MSU’s 70-59 win over South Carolina in the first round of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday.
• The buzz: Freshman guard Fred Thomas had a career night, notching 21 points and hitting big shots as the Bulldogs (10-21) held off all second-half challenges by South Carolina (14-18). MSU’s 1-3-1 zone defense gave the Gamecocks fits, and it kept Brenton Williams in check. He scored 38 points against MSU last week; tonight he had just six points on 2-of-13 shooting (2 of 11 from 3-point range).
• Turning point: MSU used a 13-0 run in the first half, with eight points from Thomas, to take a 26-13 lead. South Carolina did eventually cut it to four points late, but otherwise never seriously threatened.
• MSU leaders: Thomas 21 points (6-12 FGs, 4-8 3FGs, 5-6 FTs), 5 steals, 3 blocks, 3 assists, 3 rebounds; Colin Borchert 11 points (5-6 FGs, 1-1 3FGs), 8 rebounds; Roquez Johnson 11 points (2-7 FGs, 0-1 3FGs, 7-10 FTs), 8 rebounds; Gavin Ware 10 points (4-7 FGs, 2-2 FTs), 7 rebounds.
• South Carolina leaders: Bruce Ellington 13 points (4-9 FGs, 2-5 3FGs, 3-3 FTs); Laimonas Chatkevicius 11 points (5-9 FGs, 0-2 3FGs, 1-2 FTs), 5 rebounds.
• MVP: Thomas, whose 21 points were a career high and was making plays on both ends of the court all night long.
• Key stats: MSU shot 46.9 percent from the floor, including 7 of 15 (46.7 percent) from 3-point range. … SC shot 37.5 percent overall, 6 of 31 (19.4 percent) from deep. … MSU made 17 of 27 free throws, while SC hit 5 of 7. … MSU won the turnover battle, 17-14, and scored 17 points off turnovers.
• Quotable: “We really wanted to win this game. We said before we were coming out, this was a new season, so we came out and played hard.” – Thomas
• Bottom line: MSU came out loose and focused from the beginning and played one of its better games this year. The shooting was surprisingly good, but it was the defense that really made things go. Of the 17 SC turnovers, 12 came via steals.
• Up next: MSU plays No. 5 seed Tennessee at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. The Volunteers beat State in Knoxville on Jan. 19 by a 72-57 score.