Gamecocks let SEC opener slip away against Bulldogs

South Carolina (10-4, 0-1 SEC) dropped their Southeastern Conference opener on the road to Mississippi State (6-7, 1-0 SEC) 56-54.

Gamecocks junior guard Brian Richardson netted 20 points on seven made shots and five made 3-pointers, all career highs. Richardson also led the Gamecocks in rebounding, coming down with a game-high eight boards.

Junior guard and Bruce Ellington, who just joined the team from the football squad, also reached double figures with 11. Junior guard Eric Smith added five assists. The Gamecocks out-rebounded the Bulldogs 38-29.

Freshman guard Craig Sword led the way for Mississippi State, scoring 18 and sophomore forward Roquez Johnson added 14 in the effort. Junior forward Colin Borchert grabbed a team-high six rebounds. The Bulldogs scored 28 points off of 24 Gamecock turnovers and out-scored South Carolina 14-2 in transition.

The Gamecocks played solid defense early in the contest with both Ellington and Smith drawing a charge underneath the basket for Bulldog turnovers.

Carolina failed to convert on its first three possessions, but connected on the next four to hold a 10-4 lead at the first media timeout. Richardson was hot early, hitting his first two attempts from beyond the arc, coupled with a floater from Smith and a jumper from Ellington for the Gamecocks advantage.

Carolina scored 12 unanswered points before Mississippi State began to exploit the mounting Gamecock turnovers through the midway point of the half. The Bulldogs tied the contest at 12 on a 3-point play from Sword at the 12-minute mark.

In the next seven minutes of play, Carolina scored just two points to trail the Bulldogs 16-14 with 7:27 remaining in the half.

The Bulldogs struggled from the floor down with the first half winding down, but were solid from the free throw line and Ellington connected on two 3s late in the half to tie the contest at 26 at the break.

Carolina committed 13 turnovers in the first half, with the Bulldogs posting 15 points off those giveaways, to go along with 12 points in the paint. Mississippi State failed to hit a 3 in the first half, but connected on 10-of-14 from the free throw line.

Ellington hit his third 3 of the contest just seconds into the second half, and senior forward Lakeem Jackson added a lay-in at the 18:50 mark, which forced a Mississippi State timeout with the Gamecocks ahead 31-26.

Borchert connected on back-to-back layups for the Bulldogs and Sword followed with a 3-point play at the 16:40 mark to put the score at 34-33 Carolina.

The teams traded baskets through the next minutes of action before a 3 from Richardson pushed the Gamecocks lead to 42-37 with 12 minutes remaining.

Richardson connected on one from the free throw line at the 10:29 mark, but MSU battled back to within one until Richardson hit his fifth 3 of the game and added a jumper with just under eight minutes to go, putting the Gamecocks lead at six.

The score stood at 50-44 Gamecocks with just over five minutes on the clock, but Borchert hit two free throws for the Bulldogs, and the home team followed with lay-ups on three consecutive possessions to take a 52-50 upperhand with just over three minutes remaining.

Mississippi State called a 30-second timeout with 1:46 to go and was called for an offensive foul on the possession out of the break. Jackson connected for a lay-up on the opposite end to tie the contest at 52 with just over one minute remaining.

Sword hit two free throws for the Bulldogs with 41.8 seconds on the clock to put MSU up two. The Gamecocks committed a turnover on the ensuing possession and Sword converted to put MSU up four at 56-52 with 20 seconds remaining.

Freshman forward Michael Carrera pulled the Gamecocks back within two on a lay-up with 17 seconds on the clock and on the other end, the Bulldogs left two points on the free throw line to set the Gamecocks up with a final possession to win. The Gamecocks were unable to mark the scoreboard and MSU earned the 56-54 victory.

South Carolina returns to Columbia to host Auburn in the SEC home opener on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

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