Mississippi State was finally able to give coach Ben Howland his first SEC win with an 83-77 home victory over in-state rival Ole Miss on Saturday.
But the schedule makers didn’t make the road any easier for the Bulldogs.
MSU must travel to the SEC’s Columbia-based schools this week starting with South Carolina at 6 p.m. tonight on SEC Network. The Gamecocks are 17-2 on the year and are ranked 22nd in the coaches’ poll.
“South Carolina is obviously a great team who is having an outstanding year,” Howland said. “They’re an NCAA Tournament team and a nationally ranked team. We’ll have our hands full.”
The Gamecocks are 4-2 in league play coming off a 78-69 loss at Tennessee over the weekend. South Carolina has five players averaging double figures on the year led by Venezuelan senior forward Michael Carrera with 12.6 points.
Carrera is joined in the low post by Lithuanian seniors Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius scoring 10.9 and 10.7 points respectively. Junior guards Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice are adding 11.6 points each.
State (8-10, 1-5 SEC) enters tonight’s game with some confidence coming off its first conference win after having some close in five straight league losses.
“We got that monkey off our back,” Howland said. “We had five previous games and were in all five. Four of them we had a chance to win in the last two minutes. That’s tough, but to finally get over that hump is important.”
The Bulldogs have been receiving a solid effort from Gavin Ware inside all season. The senior forward has scored in double figures in all but one game. He leads the SEC shooting 66.3 percent from the field and tops the team with 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.
“He’s embraced the idea of getting more post touches and is scoring inside close to the basket,” Howland said. “He’s shooting an incredible percentage from the field. He’s in the best shape of his life and we’re trying to play him as many minutes as possible.”
Mississippi State owns an 18-11 series lead over the Gamecocks and is the only SEC program the Bulldogs have a winning record against on the road (7-6).
However, MSU has lost seven straight road games dating back to last year.
South Carolina has made Colonial Life Arena a difficult venue to visit and is 10-0 there this season. The Gamecocks defeated MSU 81-68 in Columbia last season despite Craig Sword‘s 26-point effort.