Mississippi State’s 81-76 win over South Carolina on Wednesday included the most points the Gamecocks have allowed since Feb. 21 of last year.
The Bulldogs, at 51.7 percent, also became just the third USC opponent this season to make more than half of its field goal attempts.
Justin Minaya, in a boot, watched the performance from the end of USC’s bench.
“Not having him hurts us, hurts us defensively, hurts us discipline-wise,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said of losing his freshman forward to a sprained ankle. “He’s usually in the right spot. Sometimes his mistakes are just as a freshman, he’s just not strong enough, just a step slow on something. But it’s not because he’s not in the right place.
“But he wasn’t there, and you got to get it done regardless. We didn’t get it done.”
Minaya is second on the team in minutes played (26.2 per game) and is fourth in scoring (8.4) and rebounding (4.2). He suffered his injury during Monday’s practice. Martin, as of Wednesday evening, didn’t have a timetable for his return.
Martin, did, however, have examples of where Minaya was missed most.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder has had success this season at defending multiple positions, including guards. Nick and Q. Weatherspoon, MSU’s backcourt tandem, combined for 35 points and six assists against USC.
Martin had flashbacks to November games with Western Michigan when, after exhausting all other options, he put Minaya on Thomas Wilder, the Broncos’ star 6-3 guard.
“Finally,” Martin said, “after a timeout, I said, ‘Justin, let’s try you.’ And Justin was the one guy that put up a fight, so he didn’t get destroyed off the dribble.”
Senior guard Frank Booker, who led South Carolina with a career-high 25 points, was quick to rattle off where Minaya’s absence hurt the Gamecocks.
“He’s a huge part of what we’re trying to do,” Booker said. “Anybody going down is tough. With him, he gives us defense, he gives us shot-making, he gives us length and size and rebounding. So we lost a lot when he went down.”
Some other takeaways from the loss that dropped USC to 13-9 overall and 4-5 in the SEC.
Crunch time still not USC’s time
Three straight home losses for the Gamecocks when they were either tied (Tennessee), leading (Texas Tech) or within one point (Mississippi State) of their opponent somewhere in the last six minutes of the game.
A Hassani Gravett layup got South Carolina to within 70-69 with 4:49 left Wednesday. From there, USC missed five of six field goal attempts and four of seven free throw attempts.
“It’s very frustrating,” Booker said. “We felt like we had something going and little things in games like these slip through our hands. It’s little things that’s messing us up. We gotta change, we gotta change as a team.”
Carolina totals from the final six minutes of losses to the Volunteers, Red Raiders and Bulldogs:
▪ Five of 28 shooting from the field (17.9 percent)
▪ Six of 13 from the free throw line (46.2)
▪ Outscored 40-20
Point guards woes have continued
Five points, 2.5 assists, 3.5 turnovers. Those are game averages for Wes Myers since his breakout performance at Florida last week.
The USC point guard struggled again Wednesday, having more turnovers (five) than field goals (three).
When Gravett, Myers’ backup at PG was on the floor, the Gamecocks were outscored by six points.
“Right now we’re just getting thoroughly outplayed at the point guard spot,” Martin said, nodding to Texas Tech conductor Keenan Evans dropping 31 on USC last Saturday. “We can’t guard point guards and we’re not getting much offensively from our point guards. That’s not good.”
Block party went on as scheduled
Martin had pre-game concerns about Mississippi State’s ability to block shots – and South Carolina’s tendency to get its shots swatted.
The Bulldogs totaled six blocks, including four by 6-11 forward Abdul Ado.
Opponents are now averaging 4.8 blocks per game against USC this season. That number was 3.8 last season.