State Holds Off Late South Carolina Charge For 60-58 Victory
The Bulldogs won a third straight conference game for the first time this season. MSU improved to 17-13 overall and 9-7 in league play, while South Carolina fell to 14-15 and 5-11. The Bulldogs have now taken five straight in the overall series from the Gamecocks.
MSU has secured the No. 2 seed from the Western Division. The Bulldogs could face one of six different opponents when the SEC Tournament tips off next week in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. MSU will begin its tournament play with a 9 p.m. CT quarterfinal match Friday, televised regionally by Fox Sports Net South.
"You have to give South Carolina credit, they jumped up and made shots," MSU head coach Rick Stansbury said. "I am awfully proud of my team. We weren't as sharp as we have been being. There is no doubt that we were physically and mentally fatigued.
"We found a way to make enough plays to win the game."
Johnson hit seven 3-point baskets - one shy of tying the school record for most 3's in a game. Benock played 32 minutes, though he failed to score. Augustus recorded his ninth double-double of the season and also became the 32nd Bulldog ever to pull down 500 career rebounds.
Despite the superlatives, the game was in doubt until the waning seconds.
With the Bulldogs leading 57-56, Augustus hit a fade-away jumper from about 10 feet out as the shot clock expired. That basket was good with 28 seconds left in regulation. The MSU bench was called for a technical when Stansbury entered the floor, attempting to call a timeout.
Malik Cooke hit both free throws to bring the Gamecocks within one, at 59-58. The Gamecocks also received possession. Dee Bost blocked a jumper by Bruce Ellington. The Bulldogs earned possession when the rebound was knocked out of bounds.
Bost hit one of two free throws to up the lead. USC had one last chance, with Ellington missing a 3-pointer from the corner as time expired.
"We have played hard all year," Augustus said. "Sometimes, we have not caught all the breaks. However, the season is not over. We are playing with a lot of confidence. We knew it was not over until the SEC Tournament. We have played well on the road this year. I want to keep playing basketball games."
The Bulldogs started on fire. Augustus hit back-to-back 3-point baskets, including a four-point play after being fouled on a trey. The four-point play extended the early MSU advantage to 15-5.
Still, the Gamecocks hung tough. A jumper by Lakeem Jackson brought USC within 21-18 with 5:52 left in the half. A dunk by Wendell Lewis sparked the crowd and was followed up by a Johnson 3-point basket, running the lead to 29-21.
In the opening half, the Bulldogs hit seven 3-point baskets, including five from Johnson. MSU parlayed the strong offensive start into a 29-23 lead at halftime.
A dunk by Cooke brought the Gamecocks within 34-31 in the early stages of the second half. The Bulldogs followed with a 19-9 run to open a 53-40 advantage with 5:32 left.
Not deterred, the Gamecocks slowly chipped away. A remarkable 14-2 run brought the guests within one. A jumper by Ramon Galloway brought USC within 55-54 with 1:51 left.
Still, the Bulldogs righted the ship and found a way to close out the win and establish the longest win streak by either team in the 23-game series.
"It is not about who scores now," Johnson said. "The focus is all about winning. We have gotten to the end of the year. It has taken a while for everybody to comfortable on this team. The SEC Tournament has been real good to us in the past.
"We look forward to going down there, playing hard and having a run."
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 19 of 51 shots from the field (37.3 percent), 11 of 26 shots from 3-point range (42.3 percent) and 11 of 15 shots from the foul line (73.3 percent). The Gamecocks hit 23 of 64 shots from the field (35.9 percent), 5 of 18 shots from 3-point range (27.8 percent) and 7 of 8 shots from the foul line (87.5 percent).
MSU held a 41-35 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 14 assists and 16 turnovers, while the Gamecocks had nine assists and eight turnovers.
Johnson finished with 21 points. Augustus (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Renardo Sidney (13 points, 12 rebounds) each had double-doubles. For Sidney, it was his fourth double-double of the season.
USC received 15 points from Ellington, 13 points from Cooke and 10 points from Sam Muldrow.