The South Carolina basketball team closed Wednesday’s first half with a clinic in how to make a coach angry. A bad foul was followed by a bad turnover, which was followed by an allowed layup with three seconds remaining.
Naturally, Frank Martin was steamed as he escorted the Gamecocks to the locker room at Colonial Life Arena.
“Bad basketball,” Martin said.
Mississippi State was the opponent, a middle-tier SEC team in search of its first road win this season. USC, entering February with NCAA Tournament hopes, needed to pounce on such on a matchup.
Head-scratching stretches – like the first-half finale that turned a lead into a deficit – weren’t going to help.
The Bulldogs beat USC, 81-76, as the Gamecocks mixed first-half sloppiness with poor late-game execution.
Carolina, losers of two in a row, dropped to 13-9 overall and 4-5 in the SEC. It has lost three consecutive home games for the first time since February 2013, Martin’s first season.
“You can’t win if you’re not disciplined in one-possession games in the last four minutes of the game,” Martin said. “You can’t win. And that ends up on my plate.”
South Carolina got to within one of Mississippi State on three different occasions in the final 7:33, but never took a lead.
Down-the-stretch shortcomings, a theme in losses to Texas Tech and Tennessee, became the storyline again.
Wes Myers missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining. The attempt wasn’t by design.
“We didn’t run what (Martin) asked to run,” said USC guard Frank Booker. “It’s as simple as that – undisciplined.”
Mississippi State got an Aric Holman dunk eight seconds after Myers’ miss, all but sealing Carolina’s fate.
The Bulldogs, which shot 51.7 percent from the floor, improved to 16-6 and 4-5 in the SEC.
“That’s a huge win for us,” said MSU coach Ben Howland, “winning on the road against a very tough, hard-nosed South Carolina team that’s so physical, the most physical team in our league.”
Martin, though, felt Carolina didn’t play to its identity.
The Gamecocks were down Justin Minaya (sprained ankle suffered in practice), their most versatile defender. MSU was able to attack from the perimeter, getting a combined 35 points from starting guards Nick and Q. Weatherspoon.
“Couldn’t guard their guards,” Martin said. “They just came at us off the bounce the whole game.
“Chris (Silva) was not very good in his ball-screen defense, but in his defense, when your guards are getting beat off the dribble every single time, you’re on help mode. You can’t be aggressive in your coverage because you’re always trying to protect the rim.”
Booker, starting in place of Minaya, scored a career-high 25 points. He scored 10 of USC’s first 12 points in the second half as the Gamecocks tried to stay afloat when the Bulldogs tried pulling away.
MSU turned a 35-31 deficit – with 43 seconds left in the first half – to a 48-40 lead with 16:58 to go in the game. The Bulldogs finished with 13 points off USC’s 13 turnovers.
The end of the opening period was USC as its sloppiest. First, Booker fouled Abdul Ado, leading to a couple MSU free throws. Then Maik Kotsar, attempting to pass from near the rim to near half-court, was intercepted by Nick Weatherspoon and taken back for a layup. Following a Silva missed FT with eight seconds to go, Weatherspoon got another layup before the buzzer.
The Bulldogs were up 37-36 after 20 minutes.
“That stretch that they had, the last 40 seconds, was tough,” Booker said. “We thought we finally had a grip on the game and they made that little run.”
South Carolina, which lost for the first time this season when scoring 70-plus points or shooting 40 percent or better, next travels to Texas A&M on Saturday.
Note: Martin didn’t have a timetable on Minaya’s return. … Martin said Kory Holden, out since Dec. 19 with strained hamstring, practiced Monday, but wasn’t able to go. The junior guard went through a light warm-up for a third straight game.
MISSISSIPPI ST. 81, SOUTH CAROLINA 76
MISSISSIPPI ST. (16-6): Holman 2-3 2-2 6, Ado 6-9 4-5 16, Q.Weatherspoon 6-12 4-4 18, N.Weatherspoon 7-13 2-2 17, Peters 1-6 0-0 2, Feazell 0-0 0-0 0, Datcher 0-0 0-0 0, Carter 3-6 0-0 8, Wright 2-3 0-0 5, Stapleton 3-6 2-2 9. Totals 30-58 14-15 81.
SOUTH CAROLINA (13-9): Kotsar 3-8 2-4 8, Silva 4-7 10-13 18, Hinson 1-8 0-0 2, Booker 8-12 4-5 25, Myers 3-7 2-2 8, Haase 2-8 0-0 5, Gueye 0-0 0-0 0, Beatty 2-7 1-1 6, Gravett 1-3 2-2 4. Totals 24-60 21-27 76.
Halftime—Mississippi St. 37-36. 3-Point Goals—Mississippi St. 7-19 (Carter 2-2, Q.Weatherspoon 2-6, Wright 1-1, N.Weatherspoon 1-3, Stapleton 1-3, Holman 0-1, Peters 0-3), South Carolina 7-24 (Booker 5-8, Beatty 1-5, Haase 1-5, Gravett 0-1, Myers 0-1, Kotsar 0-2, Hinson 0-2). Fouled Out—Ado. Rebounds—Mississippi St. 28 (Ado 8), South Carolina 32 (Beatty, Silva 6). Assists—Mississippi St. 12 (Q.Weatherspoon, N.Weatherspoon, Peters 3), South Carolina 13 (Gravett 7). Total Fouls—Mississippi St. 24, South Carolina 14.