South Carolina’s NCAA Tournament hopes got a major shot in the arm with an 83-71 Senior Night victory over Mississippi State at the Colonial Life Arena, Tuesday. Maik Kotsar, honored with fellow senior Micaiah Henry prior to tip-off, paced the Gamecocks with 20 points.
Not only does the win avenge a 79-76 setback at Humphrey Coliseum on Feb. 19th., it also serves as a Quad II victory, boosting the Gamecocks’ (18-12, 10-7 SEC) NCAA profile.
Kotsar provided the points and the emotion, but it was South Carolina’s defense that carried the day. Mississippi State managed to shoot just 39% from the floor and turned the ball over 14 times.
Bulldogs head coach Ben Howland dished out some hefty respect for the Gamecocks defensive intensity, “Playing Frank Martin’s team is worse than a root canal, it’s like a dental implant. They drill into your skull while you’re awake. That’s what it is like to play Frank’s teams …. I’ll tell you, no one wants to play them right now.”
The Bulldogs stayed close by producing at the foul line, knocking down 22 of 27 attempts (81%). South Carolina, one of the worst foul shooting teams in the conference, hit a healthy percentage of their free throws on this night. Not only did the Gamecocks hit a better than respectable 14 of 19 at the stripe, they drained six of their last seven coming down the stretch.
Keyshawn Bryant scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half and electrified the crowd with a pair of soaring dunks. A.J. Lawson joined Bryant and Kotsar in double figures with 12 points and posted a game-high 3 steals. Jermaine Couisnard put up 8 points and led all players with 10 assists without committing a turnover. Martin noted the role the offensive efficiency played in the team’s success, “We played about as well as we’ve played offensively from a structural standpoint today. That helps us set up our defense.”
Mississippi State finished the first half on a 7-2 run to close the gap to 40-38, but South Carolina opened the second half with a set play that netted a Kotsar layup and followed with an Alanzo Frink basket to regain control. The Bulldogs would get no closer than four the rest of the way.
The Gamecocks currently sit fifth in the conference standings and can now count Kentucky, Virginia and Mississippi State among their high-quality wins. South Carolina will close out its SEC schedule with a trip to Vanderbilt, Saturday.