Mississippi State holds off South Carolina to continue push for NCAA Tournament berth

Published 8:10 am Wednesday, March 1, 2023

STARKVILLE — This wasn’t the most glamorous win Mississippi State’s men’s basketball team will ever have. In some ways, it was more like avoiding a trap. But it was still as important as any this season.

Shakeel Moore scored 20 points, Tolu Smith added 16 and six rebounds, and the Bulldogs defeated South Carolina 74-68 in Humphrey Coliseum on Tuesday.

The victory kept Mississippi State (20-10, 8-9 Southeastern Conference) on track for an NCAA Tournament berth. It is currently among the last four teams in the 68-team bracket according to ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi.

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“To me, in terms of where we’re at in the season, it’s like we’re in tournament mode — it’s survive and advance,” Mississippi State head coach Chris Jans said. “They don’t draw pictures on the scorecards. At this point in the season, it’s all about winning the game.”

Mississippi State went on a 13-4 run late in the first half, capped by Dashawn Davis’ jumper just before the buzzer, for a 42-34 lead at halftime.

South Carolina (10-20, 3-14) did not go away, though. It opened the second half with a 15-4 run of its own to take a 49-46 lead on Jacobi Wright’s 3-pointer with 12:33 left.

Mississippi State finally wrested control of the game coming down the stretch. D.J. Jeffries’ two free throws with 6:41 to go put the Bulldogs ahead 59-57 and were part of an 8-0 run that gave them the lead for good. Another 7-0 spurt in the last 2 1/2 minutes provided some breathing room.

Moore scored eight points in the last five minutes of the game.

Gregory Jackson led South Carolina with 22 points and eight rebounds.

“It was all about locking in and executing,” Moore said.

Mississippi State won for the eighth time in 10 games. It will finish the regular season Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with a road trip to Vanderbilt, and then return to Nashville for the SEC Tournament beginning on March 8.

Mississippi State could finish as high as the No. 5 seed for the SEC Tournament, although it is currently tied for eighth place in the conference.

“We are really excited, and we know what we have to do,” Smith said. “We know we have to take advantage of this opportunity. I try not to get into the bracketology and all of that, but we just have to win out. Keep winning and that’s all it is.”