The Associated Press

The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. Larry Davis had 26 points, 17 in the first half, as South Carolina built a big lead and swept to a 77-69 victory over damaged Mississippi State on Wednesday night.

The Gamecocks (11-4, 5-2 SEC) had a 15-point lead clipped to 69-65 with two minutes left. But they connected on 8 of 10 free throws four by Davis, the SEC’s leading foul-shooter to hang on.

Mississippi State (11-5, 3-4) continued its slide through the SEC. Once ranked eighth in the country, the Bulldogs lost for the fourth time in five games.

Davis, a transfer from North Carolina, tied his career high for points, set in the Gamecocks’ opening game against North Carolina Greensboro.

Melvin Watson added 15 points, 12 after halftime, for South Carolina.

Mississippi State’s Marcus Bullard scored 19 points, including four 3-pointers, to keep it close. But he fouled out with 2:17 to play.

Darryl Wilson had 14 points, and Erick Dampier and Dontae’ Jones 12 apiece for the Bulldogs.

The Gamecocks led 57-42 with 9:20 to go, but Mississippi State gradually cut into the margin with Wilson hitting for 7 points and Bullard connecting on two 3-pointers.

After Mississippi State’s Russell Walters sliced it to 69-65 on two free throws, Davis showed why he’s tops in the league at 85 percent, making four straight foul shots to put the game away.

It was South Carolina’s first-ever three-game win streak in the league since joining the SEC five seasons ago.

Davis had 17 points, including three free throws with sixth-tenths of a second left, as South Carolina built a 37-27 halftime lead. The Gamecocks led by 16 after a 19-1 run midway through the half, led by BJ McKie’s 7 points and Davis’ 6.

Mississippi State went 0-of-6 with six turnovers during the stretch before Jones’ follow shot ended almost nine minutes of futility from the floor.

Bullard hit for 7 points in the final six minutes as the Bulldogs closed within 34-27. But Whit Hughes tackled Davis in the deep right corner to set up his closing foul shots.

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