There have been signs of progress with the USC basketball team the past few weeks, but Wednesday night was a clear indicator Frank Martin still has a lot of work to do. Mississippi State spoiled Martin’s SEC debut with a 56-54 win over the Gamecocks in Starkville. The loss snaps the Gamecocks five game win streak and puts them in a 0-1 conference hole.
USC fell behind 4-0 early, then went on a 12-0 run to pull ahead only to watch Mississippi State answer with an 8-0 run. That pretty well summed up how this game would end up. The score was tied at 26 at the half and the Gamecocks opened the second half with a quick 5-0 run. They had a six point lead with just over five minutes to play before the Bulldogs went on another 8-0 run to pull ahead 52-50 with3:25 left.
Lakeem Jackson made a layup to tie the game at 52 with 1:14 left, but Mississippi State hit a pair of free throws on its next possession to pull back ahead. Bruce Ellington turned it over on the Gamecocks next possession leading to a Bulldog dunk and four point lead with :30 left.
Freshman Michael Carrera, playing for the first time in two games because of a hip injury, cut the lead to 56-54 with :19 left and USC had a chance to tie or win the game after Mississippi State freshman Fred Thomas missed a pair of free throws.
But it wasn’t to be. Ellington attempted a potential game winning 3, but had the ball, and what appeared to be a good piece of his hand, deflected. The ball ended up hitting nothing but the top of the back board with .8 left. That gave Carolina just enough time to inbound to Brian Richardson and attempt another 3, but Richardson’s shot was off the mark and the Bulldogs grabbed the win.
Road games are never easy in the SEC and “The Hump” is a tough venue, but this Mississippi State team has been decimated by injuries and suspensions and even after tonight’s win is still a game below .500 at 6-7.
USC fans have seen this ending play out a lot lately. Counting last year’s SEC Tournament loss to Alabama, the Gamecocks have dropped seven straight conference games. Their last SEC win was February 15th 2012, 57-56 over Georgia in Columbia. USC’s last SEC road win was 64-56 at LSU on February 2nd 2011.
Despite missing the final shot, Richardson had pretty solid night. He connected on 5-11 of his three point attempts and finished with a game high 20 points. Ellington was the only other Gamecock to hit double figures. He scored 11 points.
USC returns home to face Auburn Saturday at 1:30.