State claims SEC championship with second-half comeback

State claims SEC championship with second-half comeback

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WLBT) - For the second straight year, No. 5 Mississippi State has won the SEC regular-season title after defeating No. 14/15 South Carolina on the road on Sunday, 68-64.

The Bulldogs (27-2, 15-1 SEC) overcame a seven-point halftime deficit and their first time trailing at the break this season, outscoring the Gamecocks (21-8, 13-3 SEC), 36-25, in the second half. State survived a late challenge from South Carolina, who outscored MSU, 9-4 in the final 3:30 of play.

With the win, seniors Jazzmun Holmes and Teaira McCowan have tied last year’s class for the program wins record with their 126th career victory. McCowan collected her 63rd career double-double with 18 points and 17 rebounds. Anriel Howard recorded her 42nd with a season-high 16 boards and 13 points. Andra Espinoza-Hunter (17) and Jordan Danberry (12) joined them in double figures.

“I knew it was going to be a dog fight,” head coach Vic Schaefer said. “I thought they really came out and had a lot of energy. They kind of took the fight to us a little bit. I challenged our guards at halftime because I thought their guards were the difference in the game in the first half. We talked about that a little bit and really just the toughness piece and the defensive piece.”

“You saw two of the best point guards in the county, in my opinion, today in [Tyasha] Harris and [Jazzmun] Holmes,” Schaefer continued. “Those two kids are dynamite. If there are two better in the country I’d like to know who they are.”

After shooting just 35.7 percent (5-of-14) from the field in the opening quarter, State trailed 19-14. The Gamecocks scored the final 10 points of the quarter then used another 11-4 run in the second to build a 32-24 lead with 3:57 on the clock. The Bulldogs responded with an 8-4 spurt to close the half, trailing by four.

The Bulldogs opened the second half on an 11-2 run at the first media timeout to erase the deficit and take a 43-41 lead with 4:45 on the clock. The run included seven fast-break points. State didn’t slow down, extending the run to a 17-4 outburst to build a 49-43 lead with 2:04 left in the period.

MSU got rolling again with an 11-2 run over 3:15 in the fourth quarter to build a 62-51 lead with 6:20 to play, but then could not get shots to fall. State didn’t make a field goal for more than five minutes as the Gamecocks used an 11-2 run to trim the Bulldog lead to 64-62 with 1:19 to play.

As Holmes brought the ball across midcourt, an inadvertent whistle stopped play and forced State to inbound the ball. The Gamecocks stole the inbound pass and cut the lead to two with a break-away layup with 46 seconds to play.

Danberry was fouled and went to the line, but missed both attempts. Howard recovered the rebound before Danberry was fouled again. She made one of her two attempts, and McCowan collected the rebound on the second miss. McCowan was immediately fouled and made her second free throw to make it a four-point game. The Gamecocks quickly got the ball down court for a final shot from beyond the arc, but it fell short to end the game.

The victory is Schaefer’s first in Columbia and marked the Bulldogs’ first back-to-back wins over South Carolina since the 2009 and 2010 seasons. It also snapped South Carolina’s seven-year winning streak on Senior Day.

MSU holds the No. 1 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament and will have a double-bye. The Bulldogs begin play on Friday, March 8 at 11 a.m. CT against the winner of the No. 8/9 game on SEC Network.

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