It was the day of the dog, as Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer put it.
The momentum of South Carolina and Mississippi State’s national title rematch on Monday rocketed back and forth from quarter to quarter in front of an alternatively jubilant and deflated sellout crowd at Humphrey Coliseum.
But in the end, it was the No. 2 Bulldogs (24-0, 10-0 SEC) who finished the game on a hot streak, handing the No. 7 Gamecocks (18-5, 7-3 SEC) a 67-53 loss to likely seal the SEC regular season championship and give USC its first losing streak since 2013.
“They’re a great team, no doubt about it,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “They’re our league’s best team. Their record shows it, their ranking shows it. I’m happy for them that they could perform that way in front of all those people.”
Leading the way for both squads, USC’s A’ja Wilson finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds, while MSU’s Victoria Vivians collected 24 points and five rebounds. However, Vivians scored just four in the second half.
The difference, though, was that Vivians had the support of teammates Blair Schaefer, who contributed a key 14 points, 12 in the second half, and Teaira McCowan, who scored nine points and hauled in 20 rebounds.
“We understand (McCowan) is very very effective when she does certain things out there on the floor,” Staley said. “We just tried to take those things away and make it a more difficult shot ... But she did her job on the boards and got some putbacks.”
Wilson, on the other hand, didn’t have much in the way of support, as the team’s next three leading scorers — sophomore guard Tyasha Harris, redshirt junior forward Alexis Jennings and redshirt senior guard Lindsey Spann — combined for just 13 points.
The key to the game and the source of the excitement for the 10,794 in attendance, however, were the huge runs both teams traded quarter by quarter. In the first quarter, South Carolina sprinting out to a 20-10 lead, in large part thanks to 12 points from Wilson and 25 percent shooting from Mississippi State.
The second quarter was almost an exact inverse, as Mississippi State hit back-to-back-to-back 3s, Vivians scored 12 points and the Gamecocks shot 25 percent to take a one-point lead into the half.
The pendulum swung back in favor of USC in the third, as Vivians scored just one point and junior guard Doniyah Cliney hit a -buzzer-beating bank-shot 3-pointer to give her a team a five-point lead.
“I was hoping that it gave us some kind of momentum. We thought we had a rhythm until we let the crowd get the best of us,” Cliney said.
But Vivians rallied her team early in the fourth quarter with her only field goal of the half, a 3-pointer to give the Bulldogs the lead, part of a 13-0 run to take a 52-44 lead. From there, USC never got within five.
“Basketball is a game of runs, and they went on their run,” Wilson said of MSU’s explosive second and fourth quarters. “And it was hard for us to get things going offensively. So it just kinda kept going and going.”
Staley had a more detailed reason for why the two teams seemed to trade dominant stretches.
“Anytime our point guard Ty Harris is in foul trouble, it kind of disrupts what we want to do. And it was during those times where she was out of the game that Mississippi State took advantage of,” Staley said.
Harris fouled out Monday for just the second time this season. The only other occasion was another South Carolina loss, to Notre Dame on Nov. 26.
South Carolina stays on the road for its next contest but gets a break from ranked opponents, traveling to Alabama on Thursday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
SOUTH CAROLINA (18-5)—Jennings 0-3 1-2 1, Wilson 10-20 5-7 25, Cliney 3-7 3-4 10, Harris 3-6 0-0 6, Jackson 2-5 0-0 5, Grissett 0-1 0-0 0, Herbert Harrigan 0-3 0-0 0, Patrick 0-0 0-2 0, Spann 2-8 1-2 6, Totals 20-53 10-17 53.
MISSISSIPPI ST. (24-0)—McCowan 3-9 3-4 9, Johnson 1-4 0-0 2, Schaefer 5-7 2-4 14, Vivians 8-24 5-6 24, William 2-6 1-2 5, Bibby 2-6 2-2 7, Campbell 0-0 0-0 0, Danberry 0-2 0-0 0, Holmes 1-2 4-5 6, Totals 22-60 17-23 67.
3-Point Goals—South Carolina 3-9 (Cliney 1-3, Jackson 1-1, Spann 1-5), Mississippi St. 6-14 (Johnson 0-1, Schaefer 2-4, Vivians 3-5, William 0-1, Bibby 1-3). Assists—South Carolina 5 (Harris 4), Mississippi St. 10 (Holmes 8). Fouled Out—South Carolina Harris, Jackson, Mississippi St. Bibby. Rebounds—South Carolina 36 (Wilson 14), Mississippi St. 40 (McCowan 20). Total Fouls—South Carolina 23, Mississippi St. 17. Technical Fouls—None. A—10,794.