SEC men's basketball tournament: Mississippi State upends South Carolina 82-68

TAMPA — Mississippi State is one of those teams most figured would need a big run in its conference tournament to make a legitimate case for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

With an 82-68 win Friday over East No. 2 seed South Carolina in the second round of the SEC tournament, perhaps the Bulldogs have embarked on the first step of that much-needed late-season surge.

Mississippi State (21-12) initially looked as if it were headed for a deflating loss on the heels of Thursday's 19-point win over Georgia. Mississippi State made just two of their first 12 shots and fell behind by 10 with 5:44 left in the first half.

But the Gamecocks couldn't sustain the momentum, and their inability to shoot consistently in the second half did them in.

Meanwhile, Mississippi State — and primarily guard Barry Stewart — was heating up.

After taking just two shots in the first half and scoring three, Stewart poured in 18 second-half points, hitting a series of shots with a high degree of difficulty. His four 3-pointers served to break South Carolina's spirit three points at a time.

"He got his confidence up," South Carolina guard Devan Downey said. "Next thing you know, he was getting step-back (shots)."

Said Stewart: "I just felt it. Sometimes you just feel it. When the shot's falling, you just keep shooting."

The loss dealt a blow to South Carolina's shaky NCAA Tournament hopes as it fell to 21-9. But the Bulldogs are alive and can make a statement with a win against LSU today in the semifinals.

Mississippi State bounced back from a 24-point loss to the Tigers in January by pushing the league's regular-season champ to two overtimes last month. Now they'll meet again with much more at stake. And, once again, it won't be easy.

"They're a difficult team to defend in so many areas," Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Miss. St. 82

S.C. 68

SEC men's basketball tournament: Mississippi State upends South Carolina 82-68 03/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 13, 2009 10:40pm]

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