Of all the disappointment and heartache during South Carolina’s worst season in 13 years, Mississippi State’s sixth-leading scorer found a way to add to the agony in the Gamecocks’ home finale Wednesday.
Brian Bryant, who averages five points in SEC games, scored his 16th point of the night after running through the Gamecock defense, catching an inbound pass from Dee Bost and banking a layup as the overtime buzzer sounded. The referees reviewed the play for a couple of minutes before letting the result stand — a Bulldogs 69-67 victory against USC.
The Gamecocks had rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit by rediscovering their dormant offense and holding down an explosive Mississippi State team, scrapping to keep its NCAA hopes alive.
“I don’t have a word to articulate how that one made you feel,” USC coach Darrin Horn said.
“We played really well. We guarded really well. I thought everybody that played really contributed. And in overtime, they made the last play.”
Horn said Bryant found his hole for the winning basket when freshmen Anthony Gill and Damien Leonard failed to make a proper defensive switch on the play.
Horn said he kept the first-year players on the floor in overtime because they helped in the second-half rally. Leonard had scored a trio of three-pointers, including a pair back-to-back that gave USC the lead with nine minutes left.
Gill hit two free-throws with 24 seconds left in regulation to give the Gamecocks a 60-58 lead and tipped in a Bruce Ellington miss with 13 seconds left in overtime to tie the game at 67.
“I thought our young guys grew up a little bit tonight,” Horn said.
But after both of Gill’s key scores, Mississippi State came back. Bulldog leading scorer Arnett Moultrie hit two free throws with 10 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 60 after he was fouled by Damontre Harris.
Ellington’s last-second jumper fell short to land USC in its first overtime game of the year.
After Gill’s tip-in as the extra period wound down, Ellington got a loose ball under the Mississippi State basket but he stepped out of bounds with 1.4 seconds left to set up the Bulldogs’ winning play.
USC had fouls to give late but Horn didn’t want to take the chance of putting Mississippi State at the line by asking his young team to try and avoid contact while the Bulldogs were shooting.
The loss gives the Gamecocks one last chance to avoid their record-worst SEC record. USC has never won fewer than three league games in 21 seasons.
The Gamecocks are 10-19 and 2-13 in the SEC with a final regular-season game at Georgia on Saturday. The team has not lost 20 games in a season since dropping a school-record 21 in 1998-99.
“I’m hurt for our guys,” Horn said. “I don’t know if anybody really understands how hard it is do what our team has been doing. Nobody is happy with our record, most of all me and the guys. We just have to find a way to keep fighting. I was proud of their effort. It was as well as we’ve played.”
Mississippi State (20-10, 7-8), once considered a near NCAA lock, had lost five in a row coming into the game.
"The basketball gods were looking after us late in that game," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said.
Ellington led USC with 17 points. Harris got his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Malik Cooke, the team’s only senior playing in his last game at Colonial Life Arena, ended with eight points and eight rebounds.
“We just have to stay focused,” Cooke said.
“We have some time left.”
MISSISSIPPI ST. (20-10)
Sidney 5-12 2-3 12, Moultrie 6-9 3-3 15, Steele 1-10 2-2 5, Bost 4-13 3-3 13, Bryant 7-9 2-2 16, Hood 2-3 0-0 5, Lewis 1-2 0-0 2, D. Smith 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 26-58 13-15 69.
SOUTH CAROLINA (10-19)
Gill 3-8 2-2 8, Cooke 4-10 1-2 11, Harris 7-8 0-1 14, Ellington 6-16 1-1 17, Leonard 3-11 0-0 9, Williams 1-3 0-0 3, Richardson 0-1 0-2 0, Smith 1-4 0-0 2, Jackson 0-1 1-2 1, Slawson 1-4 0-0 2, Geathers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-66 5-10 67.
Halftime: Mississippi St. 33-26. End Of Regulation: Tied 60. 3-Point Goals: Mississippi St. 4-17 (Bost 2-7, Hood 1-1, Steele 1-8, Bryant 0-1), South Carolina 10-24 (Ellington 4-5, Leonard 3-10, Cooke 2-5, Williams 1-2, Richardson 0-1, Slawson 0-1). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Mississippi St. 38 (Sidney 14), South Carolina 37 (Harris 11). Assists: Mississippi St. 17 (Bost 11), South Carolina 12 (Cooke, Ellington 4). Total Fouls: Mississippi St. 11, South Carolina 12. Attendance: 7,224.