Gamecocks block Mississippi State in SEC opener

Published 6:56 pm Saturday, January 6, 2024

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Meechie Johnson had a clutch steal and hit four free throws in the final seconds to allow South Carolina to hold off Mississippi State 68-62 in the Southeastern Conference men’s basketball opener for both teams Saturday afternoon.

Johnson scored 15 of his team-high 24 points over the final 11 minutes, hitting 8 of 8 from the free throw line with a key steal and an assist to help hold off the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State shot 48 percent from the field to 40 percent for Souyth Carolina, but it wasn’t enough due in large part to the Gamecocks’ rebounding. South Carolina held a 35-26 rebounding edge, including 15 offensive boards that resulted in 16 second-chance points.

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“Zero chance to win games of this magnitude if we’re getting outrebounded like that,” Mississippi State head coach Chris Jans said. “That’s all I talked about with the team in the locker room. We definitely were talking about it during the timeouts. In the second half, we had unbelievable stretches where we didn’t get any offensive rebounds. That was the game.”

Mississippi State never led in the second half, but tied the game at 42 on Dashawn Davis’ jumper with 11:51 to play. The Gamecocks responded with a Collin Murray-Boyles jumper, then Johnson hit 2 of 3 from the line and followed up with a 3-pointer in a 9-0 run with just under 10 minutes left.

Josh Hubbard turned a four-point play with 22 seconds left to get the Bulldogs within 64-62. Ta’Lon Cooper drew a foul with 17 seconds left but missed both free throws.

MSU’s D.J. Jeffries pulled in the rebound, but Johnson forced Dashawn Davis to pick up his dribble well behind the 3-point line, then stole the ball and drew a foul with 7 seconds to go. His two free throws made it a two-possession game, then he added two more to set the final score.

Johnson was 6-of-12 from the field, including 3-of-7 from behind the 3-point arc, and was 9-of-11 from the foul line to finish with 24 points. Myles Stute added 15 points.

Tolu Smith and Hubbard both scored 13 points off the bench to lead the Bulldogs. Shakeel Moore had 10 points.

South Carolina plays at Alabama on Tuesday. Mississippi State plays host to No. 5 Tennessee on Wednesday.