By Brad Locke?NEMS Daily Journal
MSU cut a 22-point deficit to five in the second half but came up short at South Carolina, 79-72, on Wednesday. The Bulldogs bounced right back with a 74-71 overtime win over Auburn in Saturday’s regular-season finale, marking the first time this season they won back-to-back SEC home games.
MSU heads to Nashville to open play in the SEC Tournament on Wednesday. State, the No. 13 seed, will take on 12th-seeded South Carolina at 6:30 p.m. at Bridgestone Arena. It will be the third meeting between the teams this season.
MSU won the first one on Jan. 9 in Starkville, 56-54.
The winner of Wednesday’s game will play No. 5 seed Tennessee at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
After four consecutive games of single-digit scoring, freshman guard Craig Sword has filled it up the last two games. He scored 20 points against South Carolina, then notched 19 versus Auburn. Sword shot a combined 14 of 26 from the field in those two games, and he made two huge free throws in overtime Saturday to break a 71-71 tie.
Freshman center Gavin Ware has had an up-and-down season, and he’s been down the last couple of games. He was held to two shot attempts and six points at South Carolina, then scored just three on 1-of-6 shooting against Auburn.
Part of the problem has been getting the ball to Ware, who despite the struggles has drawn praise from coach Rick Ray for his effort.
MSU fell a bit in this week’s RPI rankings, to 233rd in the country. Looking ahead, South Carolina has an RPI rank of 212.
As rough as this season has been for State, players are feeling good about the way the regular season ended with wins over Ole Miss and Auburn. A victory Wednesday would do even more to send the Bulldogs into the offseason with a sense of hope for the future.